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London Film Festival Preview: Wadjda
Manish Agarwal , October 11th, 2012 04:45

Haifaa Al Mansour's unprecedented and brilliant Saudi Arabian drama screens in the First Feature Competition at the 56th London Film Festival

It's remarkable enough that trailblazing short filmmaker and documentarian Haifaa Al Mansour was able to capture - with unerring clarity and poise, despite real peril - her debut fictional feature on location in Riyadh, a place where cinema exhibition has long been outlawed. But the fact that the first full-length movie to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia is a wittily subversive, nimble feminist gem makes Wadjda one to celebrate.

Young newcomer Waad Mohammed excels as the title character: a sparky, street-smart girl whose instinctive enjoyment of life requires small acts of defiance against an oppressive society - such as making tapes of Western pop music, forgetting to wear a headscarf, and inking the white parts of her Converse sneakers to bypass school's drab black shoes rule. She wants to buy a bike (frowned upon for females) in order to race the boy next door, so enters a Koran recitation contest offering a cash prize for the winner. Meanwhile, her mother (the wonderful Reem Adbullah) is facing a graver inequality: unable to conceive another child, she's scared that Wadjda's father is going to take a second wife, one who can bear him a son. Marked by scenarios that are both laugh-out-loud absurd and shockingly unfair, the individual storylines converge on a bittersweet ending that's sheer poetry, with an implicit anger at its core.

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