There's perhaps nothing so remarkable about a sweet, low-key coming-of-age story about a young girl who's determined to live life on her own terms. But there is when that film is set and filmed in Saudi Arabia, a nation where the public and even private roles of women are strictly curtailed. Add in that this is the first feature film produced in Saudi Arabia and made by a woman, Haifaa Al Mansour — and Wadjda is notable just for existing.
But it's worth seeing on its own merits. Young Waad Mohammed is wonderful as tomboyish pre-teen Wadjda, who lives with her (married but somewhat single) mother, and dreams of owning a bicycle. She enters a Koran-recitation contest at her school (there is a cash prize), while also navigating a complicated route into womanhood. Wadjda never vocalizes it, but Mohammed lets us see how dismayed she is to discover that with age, her world is shrinking rather than expanding.