Wadjda (2013) : Foreign Film Review

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

“when the rules dont fit, find the courage to follow your own’

My Rating: 4.5/5
My Rating: 4.5/5

I watched this film like 3 days ago. I am still impacted by this movie. I know I am not supposed to criticize culture that I did not understand but I just cannot brain this one particular culture. The sort of culture that women build because their own men said so or otherwise. The sort of culture that shows a totality in conforming what their husband or father demanded. Trust me, I am a bit similar with those poor women and I am still trying to free myself ever since. I was raised in a household that upholds the tradition of man is superior to woman. It still is and I don’t know when we will evolve from this. I am still fighting the equality that I deserved from my parents yet they shoved it down my throat by saying ‘You are a girl’. The phrase of ‘You are a girl’ really get on my nerves, it just show the value of yourself in the family. Yes, I was given a chance to education because I was born in Malay Middle Class Family. As far as I am concern, middle class family values education above other matters. However, despite being educated, I still am expected to behave like a proper Malay girl. I am expected to do household chores and in their mind, I will somehow get married and settle down like a normal and ordinary girl would do. If my life was planned to be so dull like this, I don’t have to go to school at all. I should learn basic things only and prepare my entire life ahead to be a good housewife. I didn’t say being a housewife is not good; it is just not for me. The education that I received until now shaped the way I thought of this world even in small matters. For me, Marriage is a total submission to one man until you die (if your husband dies or you both are divorced, it will be another story).

It is so great to be born in Malaysia where Islam is practiced moderately. I feel lucky because I have access to many things though there are still culture restrictions on woman of we should do this and that. I read so many books featuring the story of my sisters in some middle-eastern countries that does not have access to education. Even if they have, they can’t because they are not supposed to. Why they are not supposed to? That’s because their dad/brother/husband said so. They have to live in total seclusion and barricaded themselves within 4 walls. They bear the responsibility of being a good mother and obedient housewife. They are taught that there is no other life aside from serving the family and dedicated their whole like being a proper woman. If you are ended up in this kind of life, you will teach your own daughter the same life values you had. You yourself can’t even teach your daughter to try other option because in your mind there will be no other option. The chain of this restrictive and backward way of life will deny your own daughter of what choice she will have in her life. That is why it is so refreshing seeing many activists in Saudi Arabia this year protesting loudly and bravely in against the order of woman cannot drive. We live in 21st century and we still have this absurd law in some country. Saudi Arabia is the only country that didn’t allow women to drive and places in a top position among other countries that score zero for not having any women in their political field. Anyway, I don’t want to talk much about Saudi Arabia, Everything is Google-able nowadays. You can type women’s rights in Saudi Arabia in the search box and read it yourself.

wadjda

The reason I watched this film because it shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the Director of this film is a woman. This film may focus on how one teenager struggles to buy a bicycle for herself. You might wonder why the story line is so simple. My friends, it is not that simple. In this film lay bricks by bricks women’s issues faced by the Saudi Women. Wadjda is a 10 years old girl who’s a bit peculiar and adventurous of her own. She often played with a boy around her age named Abdullah in their neighborhood. She got jealous seeing Abdullah can ride around it in his bicycle and want to get back at him once she got a bicycle of her own. She asked her mother to buy it for her only to be dismissed by saying ‘you can’t ride it, you are a girl and it will be not good for your health as a woman’. We have been playing a bicycle since we were kids and our parents can bought it for us without any hesitation but there, the girl around wadjda’s age did face this harsh treatment. Wadjda knew that begging her parents won’t change anything; she decided to enter the Quran Recitation competition that bears the money prize. She wanted to use the money prize to buy a bicycle. While I am writing this review, I actually didn’t finish watching this film yet. It is too suffocating to me. I didn’t face this much repression compared to Saudi women but I slightly face it when people often told me I can’t do it because I am a girl. It is so disappointing when those who often incite the gender differences are your own family members.

Waad Mohammed as "Wadjda'
Waad Mohammed as ‘Wadjda’
The bicycle that she wanted to buy.
The bicycle that she wanted to buy.

Wadjda may encounters her own problem in this film but her mother also faces another dilemma of being a wife who is no longer can pregnant and on that note, unable to produce son to her husband. When this happened, taking another wife is often the answer. Islam allows polygamy marriage and man can take 4 wife if he’s able to do so (he’s rich and can support all of them). In this case, her mother unable to produce another child due to complication of labor she experienced during Wadjda. Her Mother in Law already looks for another possible bride for her son and she knew about it because gossips spread around in the neighborhood. She tried to win her husband back by her delicious cooking and gorgeous dress but she knew it won’t help much. Sooner or later, he will still take a second wife. Back to Wadjda’s story, In School Wadjda known as a trouble maker. The Principal of the school always try to find any flaw in Wadjda. If she found one, she will keep talking how it is bad and threatened to expel her from the school. One day, Wadjda was playing around the field where 2 older students sat there doing their own thing. The principal passed by and caught the 2 girls in a suspicious act (both girls actually were doing a fake tattoo on their feet with a marker pen). Wadjda was called upon to be a witness by them because they wanted to prove that they didn’t do anything. Wadjda is so afraid that she can’t participate in the competition told the principal she can’t claim to see anything because she’s too far from them at that time. The principal is afraid that it will be root of Lesbian (which considers in Islam as a huge sin) imposed much strict rules regarding of no holding hands even you are both girls, no showing affection by giving cards or letter to each other and walk apart from each other. Can you believe how absurd it is?

Reem Abdullah as Wadjda's Mother
Reem Abdullah as Wadjda’s Mother
Wadjda and Her Parents.
Wadjda and Her Parents.
The Awful Principal
The Awful Principal

There’s another issue I find it so disturbing that I wanted to talk in this film. When Wadjda joined the religious club in order to enter the competition, the members of the club will practice together. In one class session, they are passing around some photos and joking around with their friends about it. It turned out one of Wadjda’s friend got married to a 20 years old guy. The teacher then entered the class and asks why the fuss that they are making of. They told that one of them is married and the teacher didn’t show any surprise emotion. She just told them that photos are not allowed to bring in class. When you see that kind of scene, you will be like ‘what the fucking fuck, she’s freaking 10’ or even though she’s older than wadjda, it may apart by 1 or 2 years. She’s practically still a kid to me. I just can’t accept any child marriage. The director of this film just shows us a glimpse of child marriage culture happened there. It’s a norm and acceptable there. Even Wadjda’s mother always joked around saying she will marry her off right away. There are certain codes that women should abide by and they are started from this school. There are one scene whereby the principal will nag any students whose laugh and giggling loudly by saying that they are not ashamed of themselves and try to attract attention of men. There is also a scene where Wadjda’s friend move from one location to another when they are playing in the school because male construction workers from another building can see them and it is not good for their honor.

Wadjda and Abdullah
Wadjda and Abdullah
Wadjda and her friends in Religious Club
Wadjda and her friends in Religious Club

I still have another 30 minutes left to finish this film but I chose not to. I can’t do it. I know it’s silly but I can’t help it. I am a bit emotional person, I must say. Overall, This film featuring a helpless girl in the oppressive culture and she try to do it in her way instead of abiding the rule it is so inspirational and in the same time, it is miserable because nobody will support her (not even her own mother). If you wanted to catch a glance what a Saudi women life will be in their country, this film is the good option to consider. Although I didn’t finish it, I read the whole in plot in IMDB. Later, Wadjda did win the Quran Recitation Competition but she didn’t get the money because it will be donated to a Palestinian cause. Her father get married to a second wife and in the end, her mother did buy a bicycle for Wadjda. Wadjda then used it to race against Abdullah. This one is among few films of Middle-eastern that I consider is good. The director didn’t use the film to downgrade her own culture but rather to let the audience think and interpret their own perception of the film.

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