Recommended: Wadjda

Wadjda is a film from Saudi Arabia, famous for being the first entirely shot within that country, not to mention the first feature film written and directed by a Saudi woman. It is now available for streaming in the US via M-Go and Amazon and elsewhere.

It’s a movie that tells a big story by telling a small story. In the small story, a young girl wishes to own a bicycle, and sets about doing whatever it takes to accomplish her goal, from selling things she makes to wheeling and dealing in the schoolyard, to competing in a Koran recitation competition which offers a prize big enough to cover the cost. While all this is going on, and we are getting to know this sly and delightful character, we are being shown a world we never see, the lives of everyday women behind the veils in Saudi Arabia. To me at least this was unknown territory, and there is a tremendous juxtaposition between all the commonalities of our own world – from the cars and kitchens to the shops and construction work – and the vast differences: how women are not permitted to drive, how they must cover themselves in public, how they worry continually about being seen by men who are not family. We have our Western set of supersitions, and they have theirs: don’t leave the Koran open! The devil might spit in it! There is nothing essentially different between these worlds except for all the man-made rules and nonsense (and how the women enforce it all amongst themselves, and reinforce it all throughout). There are no wasted moments in this film.  Every instant tells a story.

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