Waad Mohammed plays a rebel and a scam artist who seeks to buy a bike in a country where girls aren't permitted to ride them in 'Wadjda.' (Tobias Kownatzki / Sony Pictures Classics)
As subversive as it is delightful, “Wadjda” is about gender oppression, hypocrisy and youthful spunk.
It’s also very much the simple story of a girl who wants a bicycle, to prove she can ride faster than the boy who is her friend. Unfortunately for her, she lives in Saudi Arabia, where girls aren’t supposed to ride bicycles, or do much of anything.
But Wadjda (the remarkable Waad Mohammed) is both a rebel and something of a scam artist. She spies a bike for sale at a local shop and immediately begins saving money to buy it. She makes and sells bracelets at her strict school, she delivers smuggled letters for a fee, she’ll even stop fake crying if someone will give her some money.
The bike costs a lot, though, and her mother (Reem Abdullah) is more concerned with keeping the affections of her father (Sultan Al Assaf), which have waned since it’s become apparent his wife can bear no more children.
Things are looking hopeless until Wadjda finds out about a Koran competition at her school with a big-money top prize. Guess who suddenly gets religion?
Writer-director Haiffa Al-Mansour is considered something of a revolutionary in Saudi Arabia. She’s the country’s first female director — she had to stay inside a van to monitor exterior shots since a woman cannot be seen working alongside men — and her camera is hardly shy when it comes to pointing out the claustrophobic roles forced on women there.
But revolutionary or not, she’s also just one heck of a director making a sweet little film about the human spirit, about want and energy and determination against unfair odds. Yes, this is a movie about Saudi Arabia. But more importantly, it’s a movie about life.
Rated PG for thematic elements, brief mild language and smoking
Running time: 98 minutes