The recent initiative of Muslim women, who in Milan rode together to reaffirm the right to ride a bike without bans and thus the equality between men and women, may also be inspired by this beautiful movie: Wadjda.
A strange mood comes to you after watching Wadjda. What may seem like a relatively simple plot for a young audience (an Arab girl who dreams to fulfill his wish, to have a bike, and works for it), actually leaves the viewer in the throes of a feeling of tenderness and anger; you will be impressed by the freshness of a film that tells about the purest youth but also about a culture which discriminates the female sex, and with a big question: how is it that this work has been done by Arabs, more precisely Saudis.
Up to now, only a few European and American film had been allowed to be filmed in Saudi Arabia, while local productions were mainly documentaries and television programs. That’s why Wadjda itself is an extraordinary event, because all set and filmed in Riyadh, starring Saudi actresses and directed by a Saudi woman: Haifaa al Mansour, 38 year-old when she released the movie, graduate at the American University in Cairo with a Master in directing in Sydney and married to an US diplomat. Easy to imagine how her point of view and her freedom of expression have been influenced by all these international experiences.
Wadjda tells the story of the homonym girl (newcomer Waad Mohammed), girl of 11-12 years, who, like all the girls of the same age, lives her life in a society that distinguishes and separates clearly males and females, even within the family. At home, however, women and girls take off their black robes imposed by tradition, and Wadjda is a pre-teen in jeans and All Star (by the latter she does not separate even at school) who listens to Western music and weaves bracelets to sell to her friends.
The co-protagonist is the mother (the TV star Reem Abdullah), struggling with a driver to which in some way she has to submit although in theory he is nearly one of her employees (in Saudi Arabia, women, even if equipped with a license, can not drive), and with a husband who, for having the male child who does not arrive, marries a second wife.
However, the green bicycle of the title is what the protagonist wants at all costs, to finally challenge the child (her friend/enemy of the heart), to equal weapons, who had stolen her veil and then running away with his bicycle while she was walking.
But Wadjda does not ask the bicycle as a gift to the parents (unthinkable for anyone that a female can ride a bike, because doing it, says the story, could result in a « loss of virginity »), but she organizes herself to raise the money that she need. And the method chosen will be ingenious but especially useful to the director (and writer) to tell other aspects of Arab society and Islam
Throughout the movie you can continously notice the austerity imposed by tradition and by the institutions (in this case from the school) against the uncontrollable impulses to life and discovery. And thus we see the stratagems of the girls who organize furtive meetings between teenagers, the coquetry of some nail polish secretly put (of course on the feet, less visible) or the malice of men who go through the road of what is still a child. But also mothers who privately iron their hair and exchange phone calls full of gossips while in public they must wear the veil, avoiding any contact. Also the strict principal of the girls’ school (a woman) seems to suffer the visits of a night thief who all insinuate to be her lover.
At the end the bicycle became a symbol of rebellion, and one of the messages that embodies is that women should support each other and work together to get the right account. Without spoilering the ending, we can still say that the bicycle represents freedom of action, movement, and therefore awareness of Arab women who desire to come out, without guilt and head held high.
The challenge of Haifaa al Mansour was to fuel a debate between modernity and tradition, in a country where there are no movie theaters and where (at least in theory) women should never appear in front of a camera; but where at the same time, people watch a lot of movies, although in private home.