'Wadjda' Is First Feature Film Shot In Saudi Arabia

Wadjda tells the story of a 10-year-old Saudi girl determined to have a bicycle in a culture that frowns on female riding. Writer-director Haifaa al-Mansour says she wanted to put a human face on the situation of women in Saudi Arabia, where driving is not permitted.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

New in theaters this week is a movie described as the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. It's directed by the country's first woman filmmaker. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION critic Kenneth Turan had to see this.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Wadjda" is a remarkable film twice over, and we're fortunate to have it. But it's also hard not to wish the result was even better. "Wadjda" tells the straightforward story of a 10 year old Saudi girl determined to have a bicycle in a culture that frowns on female riding. She lets her young friend Abdullah know that she can't wait to beat him in a race.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WADJDA")

WAAD MOHAMED: (as Wadjda) (speaking in Arabic)

TURAN: Writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour admits telling this particular story was not why she made the film. She wanted to put a human face on the situation of women in Saudi Arabia, where driving is not permitted and second wives are not uncommon.

So while the story of young Wadjda's determination to ride a bike is at times as generic and unsurprising as it sounds, the uniqueness of the film's Riyadh setting and the disturbing nature of its depictions of life for women inside the country, especially Wajda's mother, are completely involving.

Wadjda's parents clearly care for each other but their marriage has not produced a son, and the norms of society are pressuring the father to take a second wife. Wadjda's mother is far from happy about this.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WADJDA")

REEM ABDULLAH: (as Mother) (speaking in Arabic)

TURAN: But in this world her options are severely limited. "Wadjda" has its drawbacks and its rebellious young heroine can come off as bratty and rude. But it's important to remember this is a film made by a first time director working under great constraints. The script contains a number of surprises, including a Koran recitation competition, and it gets stronger as it goes along. Despite its flaws, it's heartening to have "Wadjda" around.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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