It would be easy to take the big blockbuster released this week (in this case THOR: THE DARK WORLD) and write about it. By the same token I could write about a B movie making its way to DVD this week. But just for something different I thought I'd mention a small foreign film that's made its way to DVD that deserves some attention.
Foreign films don't attract a lot of attention in the U.S. like most films do. It usually seems that a select elite class of film viewer watches these films or collectors of foreign films. We here seem to think that if someone can't take the time to make the movie in our language it isn't worth viewing. That sort of thinking means that so many great movies are not seen by a larger group of people in this country. It also means that we think far too much of ourselves when it comes to movies too.
Not only do foreign films give us the opportunity to see some great movies it also opens the doors for us to see and understand a different culture than our own, a different world than the one we live in. There are a number of jokes out there about 'Muricans with redneck ways and an attitude that we are always the best. With the world of DVD open to everyone you now have the chance to see that there are some great movies being made around the world, even if you have to read subtitles to see them.
With that I'd like to talk about WADJDA. Wadjda is a 10 year old Saudi Arabian girl with dreams of her own. Living in Riyadh, Wadjda pushes the boundaries of a girl in her culture, choosing to listen to rock music and developing an entrepreneurial attitude by creating shoelace bracelets that support various teams and selling them to classmates. Her home life is better than most but not perfect. Her mother nearly died during childbirth which means she can not bear a male child for her husband. This opens the door for him to find another wife who can. But that's down the road when the film opens.
Wadjda goes to school and is viewed as a rebel there, even while other girls are doing far more outlandish things. While they paint their nails and read magazine, Wadjda is the most obvious rebel wearing tennis shoes instead of the black shoes the other girls wear and never seeming to be able to keep her scarf on her head. Her best friend is a young boy named Abdulah. As with most young boy and girl friends, they tease one another and call names but remain close. Wadjda is envious of her friend's bicycle and promises to buy one of her own even though the custom there is for girls to not ride bicycles since it would destroy their "virtue". As you can see, a different culture than ours already.
As Wadjda's mother struggles to keep her husband from taking on a second wife, she has little time to keep a closer eye on her daughter. Wadjda begins finding new ways to make money in the hopes of saving to buy the new bicycle she saw at the local toy store. But each money making idea she comes up with brings her closer to the edge of social acceptance and expulsion or shame at school. When they announce a contest that involves studying the Koran which involves memorization and understanding of the text, the prize for which is more than enough money for her needs, Wadjda enters.
While she studies for the contest Wadjda never really digs into the text she's remembering. It is all about trying to win, not about really learning. Whether or not she does win and what happens when she does/doesn't makes for an interesting film.
While the story isn't complicated and rather straightforward, the movie does hold your interest from start to finish. You never have an edge of your seat moment here but you find yourself caring for both the characters of Wadjda and her mother. And while the strict enforcement of this male dominated society is ever present, the hope for change can be seen in the acts and eyes of young Abdullah. You not only want Wadjda to win, you want to see her on the bicycle before the end of the film.
Much has been noted about the production behind the scenes of this film. To begin with it was actually filmed in Saudi Arabia, a country that views films as sinful, especially with a subject content like this. On top of that the film was directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, a female director. While the cast and crew followed custom as closely as possible, they were able to produce a film that can be enjoyed by all.
Take a chance and open up the door to a new experience. Allow yourself to watch at least one foreign film with an open mind and a chance to see the world. If you have the chance, let this be that film and find out that not all foreign films are snobbish or elitist. Some just tell a story and do it well. WADJDA is one of those.
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