Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fourth NZIFF Session - Wadjda

My fourth session (as the film slots are called) at the NZ Int'l Film Fest was Wadjda. This movie is about a young Saudi girl who chafes at the restrictions experienced by women in Saudi Arabia. In the film we see this in her determination to make enough money to buy a bike and beat her neighbor in a bike race. I chose this film because it's the first feature-length movie filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia (where cinema is banned) and the first film to be directed by a Saudi woman.

I thought this review had some interesting points about the film: 
Waad Mohammed, a 12-year-old born and raised in Riyadh, is utterly disarming in the title role: she strikes the perfect balance between cheek and impudence, and her tomboyish grin lights up the screen.The film largely consists of little vignettes in the home and at school, and while many of them are very funny, we get an acute sense of the little everyday frustrations and burdens that Saudi women have to shoulder.

Al Mansour reveals in the film’s production notes that she often had to direct from her production van via walkie-talkie when filming in more conservative areas, but Wadjda offers the hope that for the next generation of Saudi women, things might be different. Modest as it may look, this is boundary-pushing cinema in all the best ways, and what a thrill it is to hear those boundaries creak.

Wadjda, by the way, is awesome! She's the kind of friend/daughter/sister you wish you had. Creative, ambitious, determined and independent, you root for her in every way. This is a protagonist you don't want to miss.

Interspersed with Wadjda's efforts to buy her dream bike (and if you can resist a protag who uses the religious club to further her entrepreneurial schemes then I have to assume you have no sense of humor at all!) are the challenges facing her mother in marriage. It's easy to see how Wadjda's family life shapes her as much as her ambition does.

Slice-of-life/vignette films are not usually my kind of thing but this movie is a definite exception. I highly recommend seeing it. Wadjda alone makes the film worth it but this window into Saudi life* is just as compelling.

My next and last film to see is a NZ documentary about the video game industry. Dr M is going to join me for this one so perhaps I can convince him to do a guest review.

* I thought I'd take a moment to mention a mystery series set in Saudi Arabia because many of the things described in the books came alive for me in this film. The fully covered women waiting on drivers and shopping in the malls gave me a sense of deja vu. That's good writing, yes? The author Zoe Ferraris is not a Saudi national but lived there for a time with her then-husband.

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