Less obvious, however, is the social liberty that the humble bicycle has helped to facilitate over the course of the centuries. Take for example its significance to the Suffragettes, who were able to start the process of personal independence through travel thanks to the two-wheeled invention. The bike could even be seen as a facilitator of more practical clothing for women at that time – nothing says liberty quite like a pair of trousers, and after all who can cycle in a crinoline?
Well, it seems that the bicycle has retained its quiet but persistent status as a liberator and the touching 2012 film Wadjda, it does just that. Through a plucky and somewhat rebellious Saudi girl, we are presented with an endearing and enchanting, multifaceted story following her desire to raise enough money to buy a green bicycle in order to beat her friend Abdullah in a race.
Wadjda is 10 years old, and lives in a suburb of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city, with her mother. Family life is somewhat troubled, but she is bright, fun and never seems to lose her spark. Life is about wanting to play games (preferably the same ones the boys are playing), and only putting on a dress when she absolutely has to.
At school she is intelligent but uninterested, and our protagonist has a reputation for flouting the rules – wearing a pair of tattered trainers under her uniform instead of the standard black footwear, being a case in point. The film is largely through the eyes of this 10-year-old, and as such it has a rather magical, childlike simplicity to its approach, which can’t fail to make you smile.
Told she isn’t allowed the coveted bicycle in the corner shop because it’s dangerous for a girl’s virtue, Wadjda resorts to entrepreneurialism in order to buy it for herself. Try as she might, however, the resources of a 10-year-old prove a little lacking (not to mention, against school rules), and all seems lost until she finds out about a cash prize for a Koran recitation competition at her school.
Suddenly, the cheeky child with the naughty smile has a plan, and the film sees her put all her efforts into her religious studies, appearing to have become the model student, and all inspired by the desire for a bicycle to play on.
Set amidst the tensions of family drama and restraints of social convention, the film is a positive affirmation of what the world can be through a child’s eyes, and shows the simple pleasure and inspiration behind the machine that so many of us have fallen in love with.