Wadjda Blu-ray Review
Sometimes it’s difficult to accept a film that deals with a culture so different from your own that it’s hard to keep an open mind. You’re outraged at the way a certain part of the population is treated…so much so that it’s almost incredulous to believe such treatment is real. That being said, welcome to Saudi Arabia.
Wadjda (Mohammed) is a young student who, according to the rules, attends an all-girl school. But where the other girls wear their headdresses in the street and dress simply at school, Wadjda is different. Instead of plain black shoes she wears an old pair of sneakers with colorful laces. At home she listens to Western music and makes mix tapes of her favorite songs. Her father is often away on work and her mother (Abdullah) works as a teacher in a town many miles away, where a driver picks her up each day. We soon learn that this is definitely a world run by men. Such infractions, like letting men see you on the street with your face uncovered or singing too loudly (it is forbidden for a man to hear a woman’s voice in public) are regular occasions for Wadjda to be scolded. A local boy her age, whose uncle is running for local office, has a bicycle, which Wadjda would like to ride. Unfortunately, that too is forbidden (her mother tells her that if a girl rides a bicycle she will not be able to have children). Spotting a bicycle for sale at the small store she frequents in the hopes of finding new cassettes, she is, of course, rebuffed by the storekeeper. However, she begins saving money, hoping to one day purchase the bike. When she learns that her school is having a college testing the students on their knowledge of the Koran – and that there is a substantial cash prize for the winner – she strives to become the student her parents and teachers want her to be.
Beautifully photographed, and quite eye opening, WADJDA is ground breaking in so many ways. It is the very first feature film directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia. And as great as that achievement is, it should be noted that during scenes filmed in the open, director Al-Mansour had to hide in a van and direct via a video screen, lest she be seen working outside. Young Mohammed is brilliant as the young girl who yearns to rebel. Not to disobey but to feel she is truly a part of life. Though the film is presented in Arabic with English subtitles, she manages to get the depth of her performance across with just a glance. When one day her mother shows her a painting of her “Family Tree,” she is informed that family trees are only traced on the men in the family. Wanting to be a part of the tree she writes her name on a piece of paper and attaches it to the painting next to her father. She is heartbroken when she finds the paper has been removed and crumpled up. Hopefully the dreams of director Al-Mansour will not be crumpled up as easily and she will continue to produce fine work such as this.
WADJDA BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the film takes great advantage of its locations. Bright colors jump off the screen while darker tones are much more subdued.
Audio: The main soundtrack is available in both Arabic and French and is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with English subtitles. No distortion noted and the dialogue, some of it whispered, is clearly delivered.
Audio Commentary: writer/director Haifaa Al Mansour discusses pretty much every aspect of filming as well as what she had to do to achieve her goals.
The Making of “Wadjda (33:35): Filmed on the set during shooting, this entertaining featurette is presented in mixed language (both English and Arabic, which is subtitled)
The Directors Guild of America’s Q&A with Haifaa Al Mansour (38:21): Presented in English, this is an interesting event hosted by director Victoria Hochberg.