Wadjda (2012, written and directed by Haifaa Al Mansour)
[03 of #52FilmsByWomen]
If I were to describe the plot of Wadjda, it would sound almost trivial. But the emotional journey that we follow with the 11-year-old girl leaves a lasting impact, and we could easily read the simple plot as an allegory to how does one reconcile his/her own identity and desires in a very traditional, conservative society.
The aforementioned simple plot is largely focused on Wadjda wanting very much to own a bicycle. Her mother does not allow it, since riding around on bicycles was typically not something girls do in a conservative country like Saudi Arabia. Determined to get one anyway, she joins a Quran recitation competition to win the prize money to buy one.
There are many aspects of this movie that reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki films, mostly because it involves a young girl overcoming challenges and coming to terms with her identity and her hopes. This is probably because there aren’t many stories focused on young girls whose plots aren’t about superficial things (i.e., chasingafter boys, as Miyazaki once famously said). Hopefully this serves as an example of the universality of human beings. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Muslim girl, or a modern Japanese family. We all share similar internal struggles and insecurities, and this is probably why stories are universal.
Wadjda is instantly likeable as a headstrong, resourceful and opinionated young girl who doesn’t always behave in the way figures of authority expects her to, though sometimes she tries. Reem Abdullah plays a crucial role as Wadja’s mother, who has her own struggles between having a difficult job, and maintaining her relationship with her husband, all while trying to be a responsible mother. Also likeable is Abdullah, a boy who is Wadjda’s ever loyal and resourceful best friend.
This is probably one of the most interesting movies I have seen so far for #52FilmsByWomen, and hopefully I’ll get to see more films from writer/director Haifaa al-Mansour.
Selma (2014, directed by Ava DuVernay)
[04 of #52FilmsByWomen]
For a movie that takes place in 1865 focusing on one of the most important moments in the American Civil Rights movement, it seems much of the imagery found within it painfully evocative of modern day events. In what situation has it ever been acceptable for an armed police officer to beat up an unarmed civilian? This injustice, along with how reminiscent it is of real events people face today, works as the powerful and violent narrative stakes looming over characters whose main philosophy is peace.
It was clear from the outset that this film is not a Martin Luther King biopic, as it opens with a montage of Dr. King recieving the Nobel Peace Prize (scenes like these are usually saved till the end of the movie, like in A Beautiful Mind). It is first and formost, a movie about the Movement’s march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. Nevertheless David Oyelowo is utterly fantastic as King, whose performance and screen presence just glues me to the screen every time he’s in a scene.