Beyond being a well told, charming and ultimately touching film, this tale of a young girl trying to find a place for herself amidst the sexist
rules of Saudi Arabia is noteworthy for a number of things, chief among them that it’s the first film shot completely in Saudi Arabia and the
first Saudi feature ever made by a woman director, who had to hide in a van and direct by walkie-talkie for a number of scenes. (Movie
theaters themselves are outlawed in the country).
The story is largely a familiar underdog tale, and the pace can be too leisurely at times, but the specifics that surround the main character
– her mother’s emotional struggle with the possibility her husband may take a second wife against her wishes, the absurd danger of a
pre-adolescent girl simply having a boy pal, the constant teaching that women shouldn’t even be heard by men, help the film feel more
unique and disturbing than all the western equivalent. “outcast kid joins contest to prove their worth” films we’ve seen. Indeed, even the
contest here is loaded with complexity. Wadjda isn’t particularly religious, but the contest is about a verbal recitation of sections of the Koran,
so she takes it on as a means to an end (money to buy a bike she wants – another thing girls aren’t supposed to have), not as expression of
If not quite as powerful as some films about repression, it’s certainly a worthy and well acted one, and a brave leap for a film-maker whose
greatest triumph may have been getting the film made at all.