Currently at The Esquire, Wadjda is the story of a 10-year-old girl living in Saudia Arabia. The bare bones of the plot involve her attempts to obtain a bicycle. That may sound undramatic, but the trials she undergoes in her quest end up exposing much of what’s wrong with fundamentalist Muslim society, not just for females, but for everyone. The movie does so in a non-didactic fashion, with rich, fully developed characters.
In this movie you can feel the oppression—even with young schoolchildren like Wadjda and her classmates. Wadjda’s desire to ride a bike turns out to be a radical act, as doing so is frowned up by fundamentalist Muslims. The struggles Wadjda and her classmates undergo are paralleled by Wadjda’s mother, whose inability to bear a second child has her husband seeking Wife #2. The parallels also extend to the director of the film, Haifaa Al Mansour. Because she’s female, Haifaa was forced to jump through all kinds of extra hoops to make the film.
In movies that expose society’s ills characters sometimes feel like stick figures, but not here. Even when they act in a sexist manner, the male characters seem like real human beings. For them, as with the woman, there’s little wiggle room in such an oppressive society, and you sense that, like the women, the men are also ready to see their society evolve. As the charming and industrious Wadjda wheels and deals her way in the direction of bicycle ownership, she finds support in unexpected places. Her allies include the boy who inspired, due to her competitive streak, the desire to own a bike—and someone who, unexpectedly and at the last minute, lends a helping hand.