Saudi Arabia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world with one fifth of the world's oil reserves, yet women are covered head to toe outside the home. They can't vote or drive cars and are owned by guardians. This guardianship passes from father to husband and in some cases to son.
Haifaa Al-Mansour, the writer/director of Wadjda, considers the condition of these women as slavery. This is the first film completely filmed in Saudia Arabia, it had German backing so it could be shown world wide. Al-Mansour was harassed while making the film and tried to direct inside a van because she was mixing with unrelated males, and that is forbidden.
Wadjda lives with her family in the suburbs of the capital, Riyadh. They are a middle class family, yet the streets aren't paved and the entire city seems to be under construction.
The king is an absolute ruler and although education is completely free, the rules relating to women aren't written down in the Koran but they are cultural, simply handed down from generation to generation and imposed by the 'religious' police and teachers.
Wadjda is the central character. She is an intelligent, feisty 11 year old who doesn't give a hoot about her religion and by hook or by crook [mostly by crook] is going to buy a bike. She wants to race her special friend, Abdullah, who teases her but is a true friend.
When she finds out there is a a $1,000 prize for religious studies she grabs the opportunity, studies like crazy and wins the prize. But when she brazenly tells the teacher what the money is for, it is cruelty diverted elsewhere.
There is segregation even in the home. Men have many privileges; i.e. their 'club' room in the home, where they entertain and eat with their friends, while the women eat alone in another room. Nevertheless mother and daughter are close.
Wadjda loves her modern music and in many ways is a modern young girl trapped in this society. We don't follow her life but for this brief period, we are left wondering what the future will bring.
Both mother and daughter have dreams and hopes but they are completely hemmed in by the rules of their religion.
The story focuses on the everyday life and restrictions placed on women and we enter behind closed doors of the home. We observe, not judge, and the humour and charm of the main characters show acceptance of the status quo.
And yes, Wadjda wins the bike race. Perhaps there is hope for change in the future after all.
This is a film you will want to see again and again.
This sounds like an excellent film. Although you give a spoiler warning, I think you should leave out who wins the bike race, and let us find out for ourselves though. Otherwise great review; has made me interested.