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Mitchell's Top 20 Films of 2013: #20 "Wadjda"

"Wadjda"
"Wadjda"
Sony Pictures Classics, Koch Media

The movie awards season is in full-swing, and after watching tons and tons of movies last year, I’m kicking off my own personal movie awards in the form of the top 20 films of 2013!

Let’s get started!

20. “Wadjda” – In this wonderfully-told story, an enterprising pre-teen named Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) tries to work her magic to raise enough money for a brand new green bicycle.

Now, a kid might find enough difficulties to pool enough cash together for such a purchase, but that’s the least of her obstacles.

You see, she lives in Saudi Arabia, and girls are not supposed to own or ride bikes.

Well, Saudi Arabian girls are not also “supposed” to make movies either, but Haifaa Al-Mansour is the first Saudi woman to ever direct a feature-length film.

Al-Mansour, who also wrote “Wadjda”, opens our eyes to everyday life in this faraway land through the wide-open eyes of this little girl.

Through a warm smile and a willful spirit, Wadjda plays along with society’s norms.

For instance, she, albeit reluctantly, wears her hijab (a traditional veil) when someone asks, and she, pardon the pun, religiously studies her Koran to please her mother and her school teachers.

She loves her parents and avoids mischief but also questions - like a 12 year-old Gloria Steinem - the rules assigned to Saudi women.

While her kindhearted, but traditional, mom (Reem Abdullah) lectures about the importance of someday getting married and having children, Wadjda roles her eyes like she’s listening to an incomprehensible speech form Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Wadjda moves to the beat of her own drummer and tests boundaries when others her age don’t question the restrictive invisible walls spelled out before them.

“Wadjda” is a highly refreshing film about, yes, a familiar underdog narrative but plays under a very unfamiliar landscape.

Although some of the sequences admittedly seem a bit telegraphed at times, the film constantly drew my interest.

Wadjda's struggles are very real, and she worries about growing into the her mother’s current problems.

It’s a brave movie of hope, some fun, life lessons, and the pursuit of a dream: riding a sparkling new green bike when everyone says you cannot and should not do it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic