Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wadjda (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Wadjda” Focuses On
Middle Eastern Women

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When Pakastani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban, the gunman taunted the pupils on her school bus, “Who is Malala?” Now a year later, there are not many people in the world who doesn’t know who she is.

On Malala’s 16th birthday, she addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. “Here I stand, one girl among many,” she said. “I raise my voice… so that those without a voice can be heard.”

Many were disappointed when she did not win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. But Malala said she’d won in just getting nominated.

Another Middle-Eastern comes to mind this week -- Haifaa al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first-ever female film director.

Haifaa al-Mansour’s debut film -- a comedy titled “Wadjda” -- opens this week at the Tropic Cinema. It was filmed entirely within Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh.

That was no small accomplishment, for in this patriarchal society Al-Mansour had to work from the back of a van, watching the actors on a monitor, giving them instructions by walkie-talkie, because she was not allowed to mix publicly with the men in the crew.

“Wadjda” turned out to be Saudi Arabia’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards -- the first time the country has ever submitted a film for Oscar consideration.

This eponymous film tells the story of an 11-year-old Saudi girl named Wadjda who dreams of owning a green bicycle she sees in a store on her way to school. She wants to race the boys in her neighborhood. However, Wadjda’s mother refuses to buy the bicycle, for bike riding is seen as a threat to a girl’s virtue. After trying to earn money through a series of odd jobs, Wadjda decides to enter a contest that’s offering a SR1,000 cash prize for reciting verses from the Qur’an. That could pay for the green bike. But unfortunately things go off-track.

First-time actress Waad Mohammed is winning in the title role. Television’s Reem Abdullah co-stars as the stern mother with a compassionate heart. Sultan Al Assaf is the father looking to take a second wife. Noof Saad plays the Qu'ran Teacher. And Abdullrahman Algohani appears as Wadjda’s neighborhood nemesis Abdullah.

In addition to directing the film, Haifaa Al-Mansour wrote the screenplay. The witty story comes from her own experiences while growing up in Saudi Arabia. And she based the character of Wadjda on one of her favorite nieces.

Al-Mansour says the first draft of her script was much bleaker than the finished film. “I decided I didn’t want the film to carry a slogan and scream, but just to create a story where people can laugh and cry a little.” So she tweaked it a little, assuring that moviegoers would have a little smile on their faces as they left the theater.

She must have succeeded. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 99% rating.
Haifaa Al-Mansour says her screenplay was influenced by Vittorio de Sica’s classic neorealism film, “The Bicycle Thief.”

The eighth of twelve children by poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, she learned about films by watching videos, for there are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia.

No comments: