Wadjda (Mohammed) is a ten-year old girl who lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her mother (Abdullah) and father (Al-Assaf), who is contemplating taking a second wife. Wadjda is a rebellious spirit who listens to Western music and is often in trouble at school. She is friends with a neighborhood boy Abdullah (Al Gohani) and wants to challenge him to a bike race. But her mother (and society at large) disapproves of girls riding bikes, so Wadjda secretly plots to save enough money to buy herself a brand new one.
This charming film comes with an impressive backstory: in a country with no public movie theaters, Al-Mansour became the first Saudi director (and a female one at that) to make a feature length film. Such are the strictures of Saudi society that she had to direct from the back of a van via video monitors and a loudspeaker whenever outside. However, “Wadjda” deserves notice and praise on its own merits. Al-Mansour paints a revealing portrait of life for Saudi women, and newcomer Mohammed is a revelation, giving a wholly unaffected performance that anchors the film. The beguiling “Wadjda” makes us hope to see more cinema from this part of the world.