Wadjda
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The Saudi Arabian film Wadjda is one of firsts. Not only was it the first feature-length film directed by a Saudi woman, but it was also the first film shot in its entirety in Saudi Arabia. Really, it’s worth watching for its cultural and historical significance alone—but viewers will quickly discover that it’s also smart and charming and irresistibly enjoyable.

Wadjda (played by Waad Mohammed) is a 10-year-old Saudi girl who lives with her mother in a conservative community and attends a conservative school. But while women in the Muslim community are taught to be quiet and modest and submissive, Wadjda loves American music and wears black Converse sneakers under her traditional black robes.

Taunted by a neighbor boy who speeds around the streets on his bike, Wadjda decides that she wants to buy a bike of her own—despite the fact that it’s seen as shameful for a woman to ride a bike. And when she sees a shiny green bike for sale at a nearby shop, she becomes determined to save up the money to buy it—by any means necessary.

  
 
Wadjda is a beautifully layered film. On the surface, it’s just a light and entertaining drama about a young girl who tries to wheel and deal her way into earning enough money to buy herself a shiny new bike. Wadjda is such a lovable character, too. She’s smart and outspoken and full of both energy and personality. You’ll admire her resourcefulness, and you’ll root for her to earn that bike—despite the cultural implications.

Those cultural implications, meanwhile, give the film depth and drama. This isn’t just the cute little movie about a girl who wants a bike. It’s also about the role of women in Saudi society. It’s about the expectations placed upon Wadjda and her classmates as young female members of the community. It’s about Wadjda’s mother’s reliance on an bad-tempered driver to get her to work—and her fear of losing her husband to another wife because she’s unable to bear him a son. It’s about girls who are married off at 10 and young women who are disgraced for being seen with a man who’s not a member of her family. Writer/director Haifaa Al Mansour fills the film with hints and suggestions of the struggles and injustices that Saudi women face each day—yet she does so in a way that doesn’t weigh down the tone of the film or distract from its central plot.

Wadjda is a delightfully disobedient film full of charming characters and cultural insights. You’re sure to fall in love with this spunky little girl, and her story will teach you more about the world in which she lives. Even if you tend to shy away from foreign films, Saudi Arabia’s first submission to the Oscars will make you glad that you gave it a chance.

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