Thanks to Saudi Arabia's strict social mores, worldly ten year-old Wadjda (Mohammed) isn't allowed to own the bike she's set her heart on. Instead, she sets about raising the cash herself by winning a Qur’an recital competition.
It's remarkable that the first feature filmed entirely within Saudi Arabia (which has no cinemas) was directed by a woman. But what is even more pleasing is that its protagonist is a spirited tweenage girl, whose refusal to accept the restrictions placed upon her gender renders the story both wryly charming and slyly subversive. Denied a bicycle like her male friend’s in case it compromises her virginity, Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) sets about raising her own cash by entering the Qur’an recital competition run by her suspicious headmistress. The plot is deceptively simple, but the sociopolitical insights are devastating.
As simple and charming as you could wish for, this is a genuinely pioneering debut from a female Saudi filmmaker and a striking piece of work by any standards.
Reviewed by David Parkinson