Cineworld, February 17, 9.15pm; February 18, 3.30pm
Focusing upon a brief period in the life of a Saudi Arabian schoolgirl as she strives to purchase a bicycle (which females are forbidden from riding in the kingdom), Haifaa Al-Mansour's movie is entirely deserving of its international acclaim. Deceptively modest in tone and technique, as in subject, it is reminiscent, in some regards, of the work of the great Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, Crimson Gold, Offside).
The first film to be shot entirely within Saudi Arabia by a female director, it follows strong-willed Wadjda as she negotiates a life in school, street and home dominated by powerful forces of theocratic misogyny. From the hypocrisy of Wadjda's seemingly holier-than-thou headmistress to the legal polygamy of her father, Al-Mansour gets to the dark heart of her country's sexual apartheid with astonishing subtlety.
For all its directorial excellence, however, this exceptional film will perhaps be best remembered for the extraordinary performance of young Waad Mohammed, who is absolutely compelling in the title role.