Films like Wadjda do not come around very often. Haifaa al-Mansour’s debut feature is not only the first shot entirely in Saudi Arabia by a woman director, but also the first feature film ever shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, this means its place in history is secured no matter what. Yet al-Mansour’s work didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere in the Arabian Desert. An almost superhuman dedication was necessary to make this film, both due to the nation’s lack of cinematic infrastructure and the logistical problems caused by the obstacles to mobility for Saudi women. More than that, however, Wadjda simply does not feel as if it popped out of the sand. al-Mansour’s work rests on shoulders of greatness, building from a century of international cinema. That’s a loaded point, obviously, but it’s impossible to watch Wadjda without thinking of everything from Italian Neorealism to Jafar Panahi’s films around the role of women in contemporary Iran. This combination of classic styles and a surge forward into a totally new national landscape is what keeps al-Mansour’s film exhilarating from beginning to end.