Review: 'Wadjda' shows injustice through a girl's eyes

Wadjda’s (Waad Mohammed) dream is simple: to own a fast bicycle.
Wadjda’s (Waad Mohammed) dream is simple: to own a fast bicycle.
Published Oct. 22, 2013

Wadjda (PG) (98 min.) — The easiest way for filmmakers to show injustice in the world is through the eyes of a child. In the case of Haifaa al-Mansour's movie, the injustice is Saudi Arabia's male-centric culture, and the child is a preteen girl named Wadjda (newcomer Waad Mohammed), whose rebellious streak is slender yet still against the grain of her working-class community.

Wadjda's dream is simple, to own a bicycle fast enough to challenge the neighborhood boy Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani) taunting her in the way some children flirt. From that simple goal al-Mansour draws out details of the culture's repression of women starting at a young age: their denial of simple enjoyments, remaining silent and subservient around men, the constant pressure to conceal femininity. It's a situation covered in movies that can't be covered enough.

Wadjda's mother (Reem Abdullah) embodies the repression in later years, with an absentee husband seeking another wife able to bear him a son. She refuses to allow her daughter's dream of the bicycle, or her friendship with Abdullah. At her all-girls school, Wadjda is shoved toward compliance by a stern principal (the singularly named Ahd) who's a bit of a hypocrite, which bright children usually sniff out. And Wadjda is nothing if not bright, in a movie of simple values contradicting her current destiny. B+ (Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar, BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg).

Steve Persall, Times movie critic