Movie review: 'Wadjda'

“Wadjda,” a delightful debut feature by a Saudi woman named Haifaa Al-Mansour, uses a bicycle as a metaphor for freedom within a social circumference.
Oklahoman Modified: October 24, 2013 at 2:28 pm •  Published: October 25, 2013

There is a bittersweet Iranian film called “The Day I Became a Woman,” which tells three stories through the eyes of Persian women. One is an elder who squanders her life savings on a shopping trip. One is a young woman who enrages the local men when she enters a bicycle race. And one is a 9-year-old girl who plays with a neighborhood boy in the last hours before social custom requires her to hide her face from males.

Despite official government censorship, Iran has been a fount of fine cinema for decades. Ironically, that country's relatively Westernized neighbor Saudi Arabia has never produced a notable movie before the new “Wadjda,” let alone one directed by a woman.

Like “The Day I Became a Woman” and Western films such as “The Bicycle Thief” and “Breaking Away,” this delightful debut feature by a Saudi woman named Haifaa Al-Mansour uses a bicycle as a metaphor for freedom within a social circumference.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is an irrepressible 10-year-old girl who lives with her mother (Reem Abdullah) in a suburb of Riyadh. Wadjda's beloved but philandering father (Sultan Al Assaf) maintains a separate residence, forcing the mother to hire a surly chauffeur to drive her to work. In Saudi society, women's movements are restricted, yet at her all-girls school, Wadjda wears nimble sneakers and jeans under the drab black vestments, and she's got her eyes on a magic carpet: a green bicycle, so she can race against Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), the neighbor boy who is her closest friend.