Tuesday, September 17, 2013


More compelling for its backstory than what's onscreen, "Wadjda" is the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and by a female director, no less.

Haifaa Al-Mansour's film introduces us to Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), a proto-feminist pre-teen from the suburbs of Riyadh who wears purple Converse All-Stars and saves her riyals in hopes of buying a bike to race her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). She is frequently reprimanded by the headmistress of her girls' school, Miss Hussa (Ahd), and by her mother (Reem Abdullah), who, not having given her husband a son, faces the possibility that he may take a second wife. Mohammed makes an appealing debut, even if her line readings sometimes come a beat too late, and I appreciate the very rare look inside the populous country of Saudi Arabia. But the film's events feel schematic rather than authentic, and Al-Mansour misses some opportunities. The irony is not lost on us when Wadjda enters a Koran study contest with a thousand-riyal prize, but the way Mohammed plows through her recitation, she might as well be reading a recipe for machboos.

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