Wadjda (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
February 2, 2014 by Dennis Amith
“Wadjda” is a groundbreaking film for Saudi Arabia but also for Saudi women who want more opportunities of freedom and open a dialogue within society. An inspiring film from filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, “Wadjda” is recommended!
© 2012 Razor Film Produktion GmbH and High Look Communications Group. All Rights Reserved.
FILM RELEASE: 2013
DURATION: 97 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1 aspect ratio, Arabic, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: PG-13 (For Thematic Elements, Brief Mild Language and Smoking)
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
Written by Haifaa Al-Mansour
Produced by Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul
Executive Producer: Bettina Ricklefs, Rena Ronson, Hala Sarhan, Chrstian Granderath, Louise Nemschoff
Music by Max Richter
Cinematography by Lutz Reitemeier
Edited by Andreas Wodraschke
Production Design by Thomas Molt
Art Design by Tarik Saeed
Set Decoration by Maram Algohani
Costume Design by Peter Pohl
Reem Abdullah as Mother
Waad Mohammed as Wadjda
Abdullrahman Al Gohani as Abdullah
Ahd as Ms. Hussa
Sultan Al Assaf as Father
Alanoud Sajini as Fatin
Rafa Al Sanea as Fatima
Dana Abdullilah as Salma
A story set in Saudi Arabia and focused on the experiences of a young girl who challenges her country’s traditions.
For some, filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour may be known for her documentary “Women Without Shadows”, while for others, they may recall her appearance on “The Daily Show with John Stewart”, “HARDtalk” and “Real Time with Bill Maher”.
But if there is one accolade in the oeuvre of Al-Mansour, is her Saudi Arabian-German film titled “Wadjda”.
The film has the distinction to be the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, the first feature-length film to be made by a female Saudi filmmaker and the film would become the first Saudi Arabian film submitted for consideration for “Best Foreign Language Oscar”.
But the reason why many find Haifaa Al-Mansour’s work important but also controversial is that it showcases how women’s life is in Saudi Arabia and the custom of women wearing an abaya (a dressing that women cloak their heads and shoulders).
So controversial that she has received hate mail and criticism and taking on topics which are typically considered taboo for discussion.
Taking five years to make (getting financial backing in Saudi Arabia is difficult due to the fact that there is no film industry and no movie theaters, the reality is that films are looked as lower than television), with the help of the Sundance Institute and German production company Razor Film, Haifaa Al-Mansour’s goal was to create a film with a message about freedom.
But once receiving the funding, the challenge of filmmaking is the fact that women’s place in society is lower than a man, and since the film was shot in the capital city of Riyadh, the film was often shot behind a van and in accordance to cultural rules, she was not able to mingle with the men in crew and can only communicate via walkie-talkie and observing the actors via a monitor during a shot.
And now Haifaa Al-Mansour’s award winning film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in Feb. 2014.
“Wadjda” introduces us to a 10-year-0ld girl named Wadjda (portrayed by Waad Mohammed). A free-spirited girl who lives with her mother (portrayed by Reem Abdullah) and her father (portrayed by Sultan Al Assaf).
Quite often, when she travels to school, she races with her friend Abdullah (portrayed by Abdullrahman Algohani), which she often wins but he usually comes back with a bike in which she can’t compete with. So, she vowed that she would ride a bike and beat Abdullah.
Unfortunately, for Saudi girls, it’s not appropriate for girls to ride bikes. It’s considered a practice that is more for boys.
But Wadjda is different. She is into rock music, she doesn’t like to wear her abaya and because of her somewhat rebellious nature, she is often watched by the school head mistress Ms. Hussa (portrayed by Ahd Kamel).
She also doesn’t have a normal homelife. Her mother as a bit of the spunk like her daughter but she is often seen trying to get her husband to stay home and only look towards her, but the truth is that her true distraction is because her husband is intending to take a second wife.
But as her mother won’t buy her a bike and Ms. Hussa wondering if Wadjda will change for the best, Wadjda sets off to find a new way to purchase her bike, by participating in a Qur’an recital competition which the winner can take home around SR1,000 ($270 US).
“Wadjda” is presented in 1:78:1 aspect ratio and features beautiful picture quality. Skin tones are natural, scenes are well-lit and for the most part, the cinematography by Lutz Reitemeier was able to capture the emotions of the characters but also the traditional location and the various environments.
I did not notice any artifacts or banding during my viewing of the film.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Wadjda” is presented in Arabic and French 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The film is primarily a dialogue driven soundtrack but there are moments where scenes do show a classroom or building room full of children, so there are some use of crowd ambiance for the surround channels. Dialogue is crystal clear.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.
“Wadjda” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary from director Haifaa Al-Mansour.
- Making of Wadjda – (33:25) A behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Wadjda”, from interviews with the the director, the cast and members of the German production team and the challenges of shooting a film in Riyadh.
- Directors Guild of America Q&A – (38:20) Featuring a Q&A with Haifaa Al-Mansour at a post-screening of “Wadjda” at the Directors Guild of America.
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:04) Theatrical trailer for “Wadjda”.
While I’m not an erudite when it comes to Arabic culture and society, I am aware that women are not seen as equal to men and that women must cover themselves up, nor should they be seen walking or talking with men. And it’s a part of the culture that extends to children as well.
So, watching Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda” is fascinating in the fact that we watch a 10-year-old who tries to live a life to the beat of her own drum, being told about the strict rules of the land and how a girl must behave.
For those of us living in America, the idea of boys and girls not being able to play together, hanging out with each other or riding bikes together is hard to fathom but in other countries, this is how their culture is and these are traditions passed down for many generations and possibly centuries.
But as the world begins to change and as women’s rights become a hot topic in countries where women are seen in a lower level as their male counterparts, there are women who are standing up and daring these older society traditions.
For director Haifaa Al-Mansour, her film “Wadjda” may be seen as overly audacious but she was given the opportunity to be Saudi Arabia’s first filmmaker, let alone creating the country’s first feature film. While for cinema, it’s an important distinction, in the country that has no theater’s let alone a country that places television entertainment at the highest point and cinema much lower, sometimes one must create something and possibly try to open dialogue among society, even if it means approaching cultural tradition, even if it is seen as a cultural taboo to discuss these traditions, even if it means taking on the inequality of women compared to men.
From respecting cultural tradition when approaching the film, “Wadjda” is fascinating because it is film in the capital city of Riyadh and this young child named Wadjda (portrayed by Waad Mohammed), is a girl that listens to rock music, doesn’t like to wear her abaya and all she wants is to play with her friend Abdullah and ride a bike with him.
But unfortunately, society forbids her to be seen with a boy in public, her behavior of coming to school without her abaya is seen as troublesome and in her school, she is seen as a rebel and what she does is going against’a girl’s virtue.
Meanwhile, her mother is a mother who also has a bit of spunk in her as well. But mainly when it comes to her husband, a man who wants to have a son and wants to have a second wife in order to make it happen. Wadjda’s mother wants to be sexy and do all she can to convince her father to not find another woman but she knows that it’s a difficult situation.
But as mother tries her best to save her marriage and keep her husband at home, she also must deal with her daughter that has more of a rebellious side and it’s tough.
For first time actress, Waad Mohammed, she embodies that rebellious side and watching the special features included in the “Wadjda” Blu-ray, we start to see part of Wadjda in the character of Waad. Meanwhile, learning that the film features television actresses Reem Abdullah and Ahd who give a solid performance, but it’s the performance that the young Waad Mohammed that makes this film much more entertaining and satisfying.
As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic. Skintones are natural, lighting is well-done and cinematography by Lutz Reitemeier was well-done. Lossless audio is primarily dialogue-driven but is crystal clear with surround sound usage primarily ambiance. Special features include a fascinating “making of” featurette and Directors Guild of America Q&A plus an audio commentary with filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour.
Overall, “Wadjda” is a groundbreaking film for Saudi Arabia but also for Saudi women who want more opportunities of freedom and open a dialogue within society. An inspiring film from filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, “Wadjda” is recommended!
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