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Film review: ‘Wadjda’ is an effectively subversive coming-of-age tale

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Waad Mohammed gives an absolute knock-out performance in Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda.

Four stars

Wadjda Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdullrahman Al-Gohani. Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. Rated PG. Opens Friday.

The first movie from Saudi Arabia ever directed by a woman (and one of only a handful of features the country has ever produced), Wadjda deftly balances its social and political significance with a tender, entertaining and beautifully told story. Rather than a dour examination of oppression, it’s a sweet and ultimately heartwarming coming-of-age story about the 11-year-old title character, whose greatest dream is to own a bicycle, even though bike riding is considered inappropriate for Saudi girls. Newcomer Waad Mohammed is wonderful as the playful, optimistic Wadjda, who listens to Western music on the radio and wears Converse All-Stars. Although it doesn’t belabor any of its social commentary, writer-director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s movie is quietly and effectively subversive, challenging the prevailing cultural norms of its country while reaching its audience with an engaging and enormously sympathetic protagonist. There’s no better argument for social change than a glimpse into the life of a fully realized human being.

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