Directed By: Haifaa al-Monsour

Starring: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, and Abdullrahman Al Gohani

Cinema is at its absolute best when it exposes us to different ways of thinking, different belief systems, and different ways of life.  A movie is a way of transporting one's culture all across the globe to viewers of all backgrounds.  With the homogeneity of blockbuster filmmaking in Hollywood, you're often not going to find this in mainstream cinema.  You have to set your sights on independent and foreign films.  Of all the movies I've seen this year, I can't think of a film that does this better than Haifaa al-Monsour's Wadjda.  It happens to be the first film made by a female Saudi director and the first Saudi Arabian film ever submitted for competition at the Academy Awards.

Saudi girl Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) wants one thing only in the world.  She wants to ride her own bike and race her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani).  There are a couple of problems with this.  First, "good girls" in Saudi Arabia don't ride bikes, and her mother (Reem Abdullah) won't allow her to taint the family's reputation.  Second, she needs 800 riyals to pay for a bike, and that's money she just doesn't have.  To get the bike, Wadjda decides to enter a Koran recitation competition at her school.  The prize for winning this competition is 1,000 riyals, which is more than enough to pay for the bike.  She just needs to memorize a good chunk of the Koran to even have a shot at winning.

In Wadjda, Haifaa al-Monsour does a fantastic job of immersing moviegoers into Saudi culture and the way of life in that corner of the globe.  She gives us a real taste of the male-dominated society in which women must cloak themselves in public and polygamous husbands with multiple wives are the norm.  I have to admit that I feel Wadjda's pain.  As I was watching the film, I felt suffocated by all the rules that constrain her.  She doesn’t even have the simple freedom to go ride a bike down the street.  Even as a male Westerner halfway across the planet, I can somehow relate to Wadjda's struggles and understand her perspective in a very human way.  I don't credit myself for having some great openness to other cultures and beliefs (though I believe I do).  I credit Haifaa al-Monsour for exporting her culture in a way that's relatable to all despite the obstacles she certainly faced being a female Saudi director.  That's the mark of a great film.

Our main character Wadjda is portrayed flawlessly by Waad Mohammed.  This little girl has all the heart and spirit needed to inspire each and every person who checks out her film.  Mohammed gives us a spunky little girl who does what she has to do in order to do what she wants to do.  She hustles for money.  She studies the Koran to win the competition.  She endures her principal to maintain good standing at her school.  All in all, Wadjda is a tough little girl.  Giving us an endearing character and dishing out plenty of humor along the way, Mohammed wins us over with one gutsy performance.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Wadjda.  In a year when the best films for the most part have been independent and foreign flicks, Wadjda stands tall.  With her little star Waad Mohammed, Haifaa al-Monsour crafts one heartwarming piece of cinema that hits the spot.  Wadjda gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.