A spirited little girl’s battle to be herself, Wadjda is, apparently, the first full-length feature made entirely in Saudi Arabia. Even more remarkably – and Wadjda, played with engaging assurance by 12-year-old Waad Mohammed, has an absentee father and a hard working mother (Saudi TV star Reem Abdulla). She has an innocent but forbidden friendship with a neighbourhood boy – not allowed because her playmate’s family is from another tribe and because he is, of course, a boy. He has a bicycle and she longs to have one too, so she can race with him and go where she pleases. This, too, is forbidden to “respectable” girls. Her father, who only turns up occasionally, isn’t any help and her mother is too pre-occupied with her husband’s distressing new marriage plans to pay close attention to what Wadjda is up to. Would that the same could be said of her strict school head, a dragon lady of Islamic fundamentalism who hectors her pupils on rules, restrictions and decency. Wadjda, who wears Chuck Taylor sneakers, loses her head scarf, paints her toenails, likes western pop music and is a budding entrepreneur, is a constant thorn in her side.
Defying tradition, religious conservatism and ultra-restrictive culture Wadjda feigns a new-found piety and carries out a cheeky plan to earn the bike herself, entering a Koran recitation competition with a cash prize. Aspects of everyday life in suburban Riyadh are puzzling to those of us unfamiliar with Saudi society, but the mother-daughter relationship is nicely realized and one’s heart goes out to this spunky child (and anyone born female in the Kingdom).
Is Wadjda suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...