"Wadjda" is a ten-year-old Saudi girl with a simple request: a bicycle.
But she's not allowed to ride, as it could compromise her virginity. This fiction mirrors the reality in Saudi Arabia, and the character, the young actress portraying her and the writer/director are breaking the rules.
The project is Sundance-trained Haifaa Al-Mansour's first film, the first Saudi Arabian feature directed by a woman (as well as the country's first Foreign Language Oscar submission), and the first filmed entirely in that country.
Shot in 2012 in the capital Riyadh, a country where cinemas aren't allowed, the process was a challenge, as was the Ministry of Education's refusal to allow filming in a public school. Plus, girls aren't permitted to ride bikes outside, and Al-Mansour had to direct on location mostly via walkie-talkie from a van because she couldn't be seen telling men what to do.
Wadjda (effervescent Waad Mohammed) is already a rule-breaker at her all-girls school, listening to Western music on mixed tapes she's made while weaving football club bracelets and wearing Converse sneakers under her abaya. Then she decides she wants her own bike to race Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), even though the equipment and the male friendship are both forbidden.
Her mother (Reem Abdullah) has been abandoned by her father for a second wife because she hasn't given him a son, so she has to use an unreliable driver in order to commute to her long-distance job since Saudi women aren't allowed to drive themselves. Meanwhile, Wadjda enters her school's Qur'an knowledge and recitation contest to earn the 1,000 riyals for the bike.
The mutual understanding achieved by the punctuality-obsessed German and more causal Saudi film crews is discussed in "The Making of" Blu-ray featurette. And Waad shares a proud smile when she shares her delight in getting to ride a bike, "in 'Wadjda' and in real."
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