Movie Reviews
The Very Best Bike Movies

Poster for the film Wadjda Wadjda

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Charming and chilling. On one level, this Saudi Arabian film tells the simple story of a spunky girl who dearly wants to own and ride a bicycle. On another level, however, the film exposes the restrictions placed on this eleven-year-old girl (and all females) by the strong religious and cultural forces that prevail in this country.

In addition to learning that she can’t ride a bike, Wadjda learns that girls should not allow men who are not family members to see their face; that girls can be married off to men two or three times their age; and that a wife who cannot bear a son is easily cast aside.

But the movie does not lay out these constraints in a heavy-handed fashion. Rather—showing, not telling—it gradually reveals the lowly status of women and the limited opportunities open to them in the Saudi society. Although Wadjda and her mother cook dinner for male guests, they are not allowed to join the group and later have to settle for scraps after the men leave. And men scoff at the precocious Wadjda’s dream—no, make that her determination—to bike. It’s very telling that when they close, some doors in Wadjda’s home resonate like the closing of prison cell doors.

A girl who had never before acted plays Wadjda expertly. She is rebellious but thoughtfully so, making the story believable—rooted, as it is, in reality. The film is more suggestive than subversive. Wadjda wants to bike because boys get to bike, especially one of her age with whom she inappropriately spends much time. But as peculiar as Wadjda’s predicament is in this coming-of-age film, her problems have universal appeal.

Haifaa Al-Mansour directed the film even though women are not supposed to direct movies in Saudi Arabia. As the first female director of a major motion picture in Saudi Arabia, Al-Mansour had to direct parts of the film hidden away inside a van at various shooting locations.

It’s a safe bet that the defiant Al-Mansour bikes, too, because she captures vividly the allure of the bicycle, the challenge of learning to ride, the satisfaction at being self propelled, the thrill of going fast, and the freedom that a bike affords, especially for a kid.

Year Released: 2012
Duration: 98 minutes
Language: Arabic
Bike Content: 9/10 wheels


Posted by Greg Borzo on 10/10 at 02:08 PM