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"Wadjda": When Wanting a Bicycle Brings Shame to the Family 

Wednesday, Sep 18 2013

Wadjda The first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and made by a female Saudi filmmaker, Wadjda has a neat, sly way of folding complex pissed-off politics into crowd-pleasing narrative simplicity. In suburban Riyadh, a sweet and mildly willful 10-year-old girl (Waad Mohammed) wants to buy herself a bicycle. This presents a challenge — not just because she must earn and save up some money, but because, yes, she's in Riyadh, where girls aren't supposed to have bikes, and even the idea of such a thing is thought threatening to their virtue. You might say this is a repressive atmosphere. Director Haifaa Al-Mansour, a documentarian making her fiction feature debut, doesn't need to say; she lets it speak for itself. Al-Mansour has a keen intuition about that time-tested neorealist heartstring-tugger: the allegorically significant bicycle. She also understands how to wring pathos from a kid's touchingly simplistic worldview without overburdening it. Apparently young Wadjda's only relief from being deemed a problem child, on account of wearing Converse knockoffs instead of plain black loafers, or warned against letting men see or hear her, ever, is to become the champion of her school's Koran-recital bee. Understandably, under the circumstances, her relationship with her mother (Reem Abdullah) is strained. So is any hope for her future. But there is hope. There's that bike, gleaming with possibility.

About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.


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