A mischievous arab girl decides to become an expert in the Koran in order to win a prize and get herself a bike and if you’ve seen any arab movies about women you already know this isn’t one of those stories with a happy ending.
Wadjda is the name of the lead character, a prepubescent girl who’s a little tomboy-ish, with a little crush on a neighborhood boy (though he’s got it way worse for her), and little bit of competitiveness in her nature. When the boy zooms around on his bike, she says she could go faster—but she doesn’t have a bike.
She happens to spy a bike in a local store, but it’s very expensive. 800 shekels or denari or riyals or whatever it is they use wherever they are. Wadjda lives in a modest hovel with her mother and, intermittently, with her father, who comes around to play on the Playstation, or bring a bunch of friends to eat the food his wife and daughter have prepared.
Wadjda’s mom has a long commute that she’s beholden to a local driver for since she’s not allowed to drive. Another option is to, like her friend, work in the local hospital alongside of men. Wadjda’s mom is leary of this.
Wadjda, meanwhile, goes to a very strict all-girl Muslim school. She’s not a great student, and constantly in trouble with the headmistress, who senses her mischievousness and really wants to crush it and any semblance of spirit in the girl.
When the school announces a Koran-recitation contest with a cash money prize, though, Wadjda becomes the most devout girl in the world, studying the Koran like mad in an effort to win the cash and the bike.
Meanwhile, Wadjda’s mom is struggling to hang on to her usually absentee dad—a difficult prospect since she’s been unable to give him a son. He’s under pressure from his mother to take another wife as a result, and while he claims to not be too interested in the idea, he’s also clearly not uninterested.
In other words, we have an interesting blend of characters, dramatic tensions, and a fair amount of slice-of-life humor packed into this little film.
Director Haifa Al-Mansour has crafted a mini-masterpiece here on (I imagine) a pretty low budget, believable acting, and a strong story. The strength of the movie is in the women: Young Waad Mohammed as Wadjda, Reem Abdullah as mother and the gorgeous Ahd as the stern headmistress, are standouts, each representing a method of coping with a repressive society.
The whole movie is really revolves around how various women deal with each other in a society where they have so few rights.
The Boy pronounced it “super-good”. I concur.
Expect to see this nominated for an Academy Award this winter.