Last weekend, I finally got to see Wadjda, the story of a 10-year-old Saudi Arabian girl’s quest for a bicycle. It’s a movie loaded with first-evers: first film shot entirely in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, first feature film directed by a Saudi woman, and now, first film from that country to be entered in the race for an Academy Award for best foreign film. If you haven’t already seen it, treat yourself and buy a ticket.
While not forbidden, riding bicycles is frowned upon for girls in Saudi Arabia, so seeking to raise the money to buy one, to beat her friend Abdullah in a race, is an act of considerable will. The high-top-sneaker-sporting Wadjda, beautifully and fiercely played by Waad Mohammed, learns a few lessons about perseverance, hope and being true to herself as this story, written and directed with great sensitivity by Haifaa al-Mansour, unfolds in Riyadh.
Certainly, societal and religious restrictions play the central role, but this film is less about preaching than about creating consciousness by bearing witness to women’s everyday experiences. Also standouts are Wadjda’s mother, played by leading Saudi television actressReem Abdullah, who is plagued by worries that her husband will take a second wife, and the director of Wadjda’s school, played by Ahd, who, though severe and seemingly pious, clearly sees in Wadjda a younger version of herself.
The film is expected to be a strong contender for an Oscar. See Wadjda, and support it. We need more voices in this world like Ms. al-Mansour’s.