Cineworld, February 17, 9.15pm; February 18, 3.30pm
Focusing upon a brief period in the life of its titular Saudi Arabian schoolgirl, as she strives to purchase a bicycle (which females are forbidden from riding in the kingdom), Haifaa Al-Mansour’s movie is entirely deserving of its international acclaim. Deceptively modest in tone and technique, as in subject, the picture is reminiscent, in some regards, of the work of the great Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, Crimson Gold, Offside).
Al-Mansour’s film, which is the first to be shot entirely within Saudi Arabia by a female director, follows clever and strong-willed Wadjda as she negotiates a life in school, street and home which is dominated by powerful forces of theocratic misogyny. From the hypocrisy of Wadjda’s seemingly holier-than-thou headmistress to the legal polygamy of her father, Al-Mansour gets to the dark heart of her country’s sexual apartheid (not to mention its difficult relations with its massive migrant worker population) with astonishing subtlety.
For all its directorial excellence, however, this exceptional film will, perhaps, be best remembered for the extraordinary performance of young Waad Mohammed, who is absolutely compelling in the title role..
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 17, 2013
© Mark Brown