This is both a sweet, funny movie about a girl who wants a bike and a denunciation of the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia.
Wadjda is a sassy, inquisitive, spirited young girl. At home, she likes to listen to the radio, make mixtapes and sing with her mother. She isn't super into rules and she's got a smart alec comeback for everything. Her buddy Abdullah cruises around town on a bike and when she sees a girls' model with streamers delivered to the toy shop, she knows it has her name on it even though girls don't ride bikes (or so everyone tells her). Most of her plans to gather funds are squashed and when she hears about a big prize for Koran recitation she joins the religion club and starts studying.
The most affecting moment comes when it looks like Wadjda's plans are thwarted and Abdullah offers to give her his bike. "But then how will we race?" she asks. Indeed. Individual benevolence is not what the women in this film want. They want the freedom and opportunity to be in the race and control their own lives.
Wadjda is set for a theatrical release and its feel-good story should delight audiences. Everything about the film is just right: the acting is superb, it is well-photographed, the pacing keeps the story moving and every detail has layers of significance. The story is not exactly subtle, but it is supremely entertaining and has lots to say. As the first feature shot within Saudi Arabia (and by female director Haifaa Al Mansour), it is also that country's first ever entry for the Academy Aawards.
As I cycled home I felt truly lucky to be able to take such freedom for granted.