It’s not unusual for a dramatic motion picture to have its exterior, or outdoor scenes, shot on location, but its interior scenes filmed elsewhere, such as on a sound stage.
There usually is a harmony between the two. Everything “fits” visually, you have no doubt that every foot of film was shot were the story takes place.
But Wadjda is different. What sets the “inside” vs. “outside” scenes apart is not where they were shot, but the dichotomy of two vastly different cultures depicted in the movie.
When Wadjda (the principal character whose name is the title of the film) and her mother are at home, you could be watching a parent and child interacting with each other the San Fernando Valley or Orange County areas of the greater Los Angeles area. Furniture, video games, wide-screen TV, even the kitchen, look similar to what you might find in any All-American home.
But as soon as these people step outside, you know they are not in the U.S.A.
Even if the edges of the arid landscape you see suggest Desert Southwest states like Nevada or Arizona, or even California’s Coachella Valley or Mojave, something in the light and architecture of the place tell you that’s not correct.
My guess, which turned on to be correct, is that “outdoors” you are in Saudi Arabia. And that’s because of what people, particularly women and girls, must wear when they leave home.
Even the shopping mall that appears in some scenes is a tip-off: “Valley Girls” don’t wear a burqa, niqab, chador, hijab or any other variation on clothing that covers the head or body.
Wadjda herself represents a sort of culture-clash character. She studies hard to win a Koran recitation contest, but she wants to use the contest winnings for a secular purpose ill-suited for Saudi Arabian girls: To buy a bicycle.
Figuratively speaking, she is perpetually skating on thin ice, always on the edge of getting into serious trouble, always “on the game,” figuring out how to sell forbidden goods in order to amass enough riyals to buy the bike of her dreams.
The movie may raise the hackles of Western women: In Saudi Arabia, men control what women can do, women are not allowed to be with men to whom they have no familial relationship, cannot let men see them “uncovered,” and cannot drive themselves to work.
Wadjda provides a fascinating insight into a way of life far different from that familiar to most Americans.
And, of course, you have to see it in order to find the answer to this question: Does Wadjda’s dream of owning a bicycle, something most American kids would take for granted, come true?
Here’s the movie’s trailer:
(Wadjda is available in DVD and Blu-ray formats as an Instant Video from Amazon.com. Purchases made from links on this page helps Tales Told From The Road continue to provide you with a wide range of travel-related stories. It was nominated for and won several film awards.)