This is a quiet, sweet, empowering, nearly all-female drama that has impact as much to do with the world it reveals as the people it involves. Director/writer Al-Mansour shows us real life behind the compound walls and under the scarves in Saudi Arabia. Unlike The Patience Stone, which did some of the same without picking a country, Wadjda is real-drama and not allegory.

And, surprise, people are people. But the choices, decisions, and events are all driven by a culture that is, quite literally, foreign to most Western audiences. It brings both a frustration and a humanity to a culture that we know mostly from films about war and politics rather than just about simple family struggles. There are no explosions, killings, or physical beatings in this tale. It simply follows Wadjda through her life and, with some extreme understatement, exposes her world to us with barely a comment. For her, of course, these things are normal, however saddening. For most viewers, moments are crushing.

Wadjda, as a character, is one of those great, tough young women who refuses to be contained and is still too naive to be completely aware of her effect. You can see her growing up to be a Norma Rae for Saudi housewives or the female equivalent of William’s Keating in Dead Poets Society. She is a spit-fire, and with real capability. And she is an example for young girls in any culture, showing them they can be and do more than what the world may tell them their place is. How sad is it that 50 years after the rise of modern feminism that we still need that kind of example for girls?

The film isn’t perfect, but it is subtle and layered. There is a reason it has garnered so much attention and so many awards. It isn’t just a flavor-of-the-month. Al-Monsour is a rising force and vision in film. She loves her subjects and intrinsically understands the weight of her choices and images without hitting you over the head with them. As her first piece of fiction she knocked it out of the park.

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