Film review: Wadjda (PG)


Here is the first full-length feature shot entirely inside Saudi Arabia. Even more remarkably, it is made by a woman, very much the second-class citizen in the Saudi social hierarchy. Haifaa al-Mansour's film offers an unassuming yet beady view of prescribed destiny in the lives of girls and women.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a sparky 10-year-old with a mischievous sense of humour and a taste for freedom. Both get her into trouble at her religious school, where the soppy-stern headmistress instructs her pupils in the verses of the Koran and the virtues of being neither seen nor heard.

Wadjda's mother (Reem Abdullah) refuses to buy her a bicycle – not a ladylike conveyance – and frets that her husband may take a second wife. The cleverness of the fable is to turn the ascendancy of the male inside out: this is a film dominated by women.

In the title role Mohammed makes a sweet scamp, wry and watchful, always chancing her arm even as she senses trouble ahead – which is, in a nutshell, what most Saudi women can expect of life.