Wadjda

Released:  2012

Cast:  Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdulrahman al-Guhani

SUMMARY:  In Saudi Arabia, an 11-year-old girl named Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) often gets into trouble because of her flaunting of the rules.  She is frequently disciplined by the principal of her school, Ms. Hussa, and scolded by her mother (Reem Abdullah).  Wadjda’s best friend is Abdullah (Abdulrahman al-Guhani), a boy of the same age who has a bike; Wadjda also wants a bike, so that the two can race.  Unfortunately, girls are discouraged from riding bikes; Wadjda’s mother tells her that it will make her unable to have children, and flat-out refuses to buy one.  Her mother has several of her own issues to deal with:  she works at a job that requires a three-hour commute each way with a cranky driver (women do not drive), and her husband, Wadjda’s father, is rarely home.  When he is home, the pair argue frequently.  Wadjda’s father is considering taking a second wife so that he can have a son, since Wadjda’s mother is no longer able to have children.  However, Wadjda’s chief concern remains a bicycle, and she sees one at a local store that she instantly falls in love with.  It costs 800 riyals, so Wadjda decides to save up for it.  She makes small cash by selling bracelets to other girls, and raises the price on these; she also runs errand an errand for a teacher and extracts money at both ends of the deal.  Unfortunately, all of this nets less than 100 riyals.

Then, Wadjda learns of a Quran competition at her school.  This competition, which tests knowledge of vocabulary, principles, and recitation, has a prize of 1000 riyals.  Wadjda has been a mediocre student, and is not even in the religious club, but decides to enter.  To help practice, she buys a game system that asks questions about the Quran; she also gets help from her mother with the recitation part.  Her teachers, including Ms. Hussa, are impressed with her dedication and new interest in religion.  Wadjda studies constantly, and ultimately wins the competition.  Ms. Hussa, the host, is particularly proud of the once-delinquent student, and in front of the whole school, asks Wadjda what she plans to do with the money.  Wadjda promptly answers that she is going to buy a bike (which she has learned to ride by secretly practicing on Abdullah’s).  Ms. Hussa is horrified at the announcement, and disappointed to find that Wadjda has not really changed at all — she still is bent on doing what she wants, not what is proper.  Ms. Hussa suggests that the money be donated, and when Wadjda tries to protest, the principal declares that it will be donated in her name.  Wadjda is stunned and devastated.  On the way home she meets Abdullah; when he learns what happened, he offers to give her his bike, then announces that he wants to marry her when they get older.  Wadjda turns down his bike, saying that they wouldn’t be able to race.  When she gets home, her mother is not there, but her father is.  He congratulates her but then quickly leaves.  Later in the evening, Wadjda finds her mother on the roof, looking at a party — which turns out to be the wedding celebration of Wadjda’s father and his second wife.  Wadjda tells her mother about the competition, and is then given a surprise:  her mother has bought the bike for her.  The next day, Wadjda gleefully rides her bike through town until she meets Abdullah.  The two race down a street, and Wadjda wins.

MY TAKE:  This movie was a little difficult for me just because of the cultural differences.  For instance, I immediately bristled at the fact that women had to be completely covered in public places, couldn’t drive, and were discouraged from riding bikes (and that one girl in Wadjda’s class got married to a 20-year-old).  I know that this is just a cultural and religious difference, but being raised in a very different culture, it was hard for me to understand.  There were also things that I just didn’t get, at least at first, like how the women have to be covered in public but wear Western-style clothing in their homes, and the whole two-wives thing.  It highlighted for me how little I know about Islamic culture, at least the type that was being depicted in this movie.  It was a very entertaining film, though, as Wadjda seems to have many of the same issues with her culture as I did.  She rarely covers her head, likes to listen to rock songs on the radio, and is bound and determined to have a bike, regardless of what anybody tries to tell her.  Basically, she disregards the rules she doesn’t like.  I was impressed at her dedication in preparing for the Quran competition, because that Salma girl was obviously very good.  When she started practicing, Wadjda was awful, and couldn’t get past the first question on her game system.  She worked really hard, and even though she was doing it for the money rather than out of religious fervor, she still ended up with a lot more knowledge of the Quran than she started with.  In her very religious-centered culture, I’m sure that this is a plus.  Ms. Hussa doesn’t seem to see it this way:  for her, all the effort is a wash, since Wadjda did it for the money.  I thought it was pretty mean of her to take the money away.  Luckily for Wadjda, her mother has decided to also buck some of the norms (and her husband’s wishes, since she also got her hair cut), and buys Wadjda the bike.

RATING:  Not bad.

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