“Theres something about a kid on a bikethat combination of innocence, exploration, and autonomous forward motionthats always been a natural subject of cinema, from De Sicas “Bicycle Thieves” to Spielbergs “E.T. “to the Dardenne brothers, well, “Kid With a Bike.” “Wadjda” the first full-length feature film to be made entirely in Saudi Arabia, and the first feature from the female director Haifaa Al-Mansourturns a little girls quest to earn the money for her own bicycle into a poignant fable about growing up female (and growing up, period) in a place where womens autonomy is severely restricted. Its a stunningly assured debut, a slyly subversive delight, and one of my favorite movies of the year so far.
Tomboyish 10-year-old Wadjda (played by the charming Waad Mohammed, a 12-year-old in her first film role) lives with her parents in a middle-class suburb of Riyadh. Her mother (Reem Abdullah), a beautiful, sheltered woman with traditional Islamic values, lives in fear that her dashing husband, an oil-rig employee whos away from home for long periods at a time, will take a second wife to give him the son shes no longer able to have. Wadjda attends a religious girls school where instruction centers around memorizing the Quran, and whose rigid headmistress (played with scary intensity by the single-named actress Ahd) is always on the lookout for signs of impious or unladylike behavior.
After spotting a beautiful green bike mounted on the roof of a passing car, Wadjda becomes obsessed with the idea of owning one of her own, even though cultural custom frowns upon the notion. (ÐYou wont ever be able to have children if you ride a bike,Ó her mother warns her.) Wadjda convinces a neighbor boy with a crush on her (Abdullrahman al Gohani) to teach her to ride in secret and begins running various small-time scams at school to raise the money for the bicycle she so covets.
When Wadjda hears about a Quran-reciting contest at school with a cash prize, her previous lack of enthusiasm for religious instruction gives way to competitive fervor. Shes always been an indifferent student, not to mention anything but devoutalone in her room, she listens to forbidden American pop songs, and from under the hem of her black abaya peeks a pair of beat-up Chuck Taylors. But with the prospect of finally owning that bike on the table, Wadjda devotes herself to learning to chant scripture with an energy that delights both her headmistress and her mothereven if, unbeknownst to them, for all the wrong reasons.” (Dana Stevens, Slate.com)