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Wadjda (2013): A Film Review Hannah Brankin

Political Science, Honors College


he film Wadjda, directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, is a rarity: it is one of the few films shot in Saudi Arabia. It is thought-provoking, entertaining, and simultaneously sobering and uplifting. Wadjda is a ten-year-old girl who lives with her mother in Saudi Arabia and clashes with the religious expectations placed upon her. It is fascinating to see the stark contrast of cultures between the West and Saudi Arabia, bringing to life what is discussed in the media. Before proceeding, I offer caution to the reader that this review contains spoilers of the film. Wadjda’s deepest desire is to purchase her own bicycle, while her mother’s deepest yearning is to be the apple of her husband’s eye. Wadjda sets about her goal by making bracelets at home and selling them at school to earn money for her bicycle, but this is soon halted when she is caught by the headmistress, Ms. Hussa. The perceived perspective of Ms. Hussa is that she is trapped inside of a world she despises. With her comment to Wadjda, “I used to be like you when I was younger,” it reveals a glimpse into her own prison: a mind stubbornly resigned to the thought, “If I cannot be free and happy, I will ensure no one else is,” which she ruthlessly enforces upon the school girls. Wadjda’s mother, however, is willing and subservient in her world, and her pursuit is to remain her husband’s sole wife.

Her husband’s mother seems to be searching and preparing for a second wife, while Wadjda’s mother feverishly fights to prevent it. It is interesting to see that her husband, Wadjda’s father, is not present in the home for days or even weeks at a time, intermittently popping in to stay for a few days or even hours, and then leaving. Although he undoubtedly loves his wife, the pressure of their culture is overwhelming, and his wife’s inability to have more children, especially a son, is the problem and reason for his mother to seek a second wife. We are offered an intimate look into Wadjda’s mother’s heart when she tells Wadjda, “He would never burn my heart by taking a second wife.” Her pain seeps through the screen, where her only value in this world has been reduced to whether or not she can produce a son. A son is their fixation, not a daughter like Wadjda, who attempts to write her name on their wall in the family tree (where daughters are not recorded as offspring), only to discover it is removed the next day. Throughout the film we see Wadjda’s mother struggle to survive amidst unequal rights, such as the right to drive. Thus, she relies on a foreign driver for transportation funded by her husband. 18

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