BAM Best Picture Profile: Wah-Wah (2006)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Wah-Wah (2006)

In many of these recaps I discussed my pre-life with the film. In some cases they were either adaptations of stories I already knew rather well, or that I had anticipated for some time. I had no idea Wah-Wah was coming or even existed until right before I saw it. There was a review for it in the weekend section of the Philadelphia Inquirer and I decided to head out and see it based on that.

The last time I’d seen Nicholas Hoult onscreen prior to this film was in the marvelous About a Boy, which made a rather significant dent in the 2002 BAM Awards. This tale is a bit different but one I was drawn to nonetheless. Being perhaps the most obscure title I’ve ever selected as Best Picture I will cite an IMDb synopsis.

Set at the end of the ’60s, as Swaziland is about to receive independence from Great Britain, the film follows the young Ralph Compton, at 12, through his parents’ traumatic separation, till he’s 14. It is written and directed by Richard E. Grant, and based on true events from Richard E. Grant’s childhood.

So you have a few things at work here: although playing off two completely different cultures, I could certainly relate to the story of a British boy growing up in Swaziland. As a dual-dual citizen there is a that sense of belonging in two places that’s a commonality. With the impending independence there’s also the perfect backdrop for a coming-of-age tale. The feeling of ex-empire underscore Harry’s (Gabriel Byrne) feelings of inadequacy. The family and their situation are viewed with perfect clarity by Ruby, Harry’s new wife, played brilliantly by Emily Watson, who vocalizes the film’s title as an imitation of the family’s complaining. Alongside them is Miranda Richardson, as Ralph’s (Hoult) mother, and Julie Walters, too, as a neighbor.

In preparing this write-up I read on the IMDb page that this was the first film ever to be shot in Swaziland, which is certainly an interesting footnote. Of course, one of the great things about cinema is that it can take you places and underscore things you had never really considered before. The liberation from colonization of Africa had many ramifications and permutations and this is just one of them. It’s also a wonderful means of personal expression, of course, and that’s where this film succeeds. It’s not run-of-the-mill but it does put you as a viewer in a position to identify with situations even though the world you’re witnessing is not of this time and not your own.

Wah-Wah is a captivating, funny, heart-rending family drama and coming of age story that is one not much talked about that’s just waiting for you to discover it.

Year-End Dash: The Book Thief

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve not read The Book Thief. Now usually the read/unread status of book only bears mentioning when I have read it and am insulating myself from either some comments on fanboy-dom or adding a grain of salt. Here I mention it because this seems as if it was a tricky adaptation to pull of. I say that because there are some rather literary traits to the story that are far easier to execute in prose than onscreen. However, the film while not avoiding missteps in the adaptation of said traits does put it forth immediately. While that same approach is part of what gets in the way of the final impact of the film there is much felt throughout that is worth noting, and, ultimately recommending.

First and most noteworthy in the story are the five principal figures. I used that diction specifically to discuss both character and performance. For the engaging part of The Book Thief is the humanity it finds and expresses in its characters. Its signature piece of dialogue alludes to to that underlying truth. The zeitgeist in World War II films is to explore the gray area. Not that this film is specifically gray, but it does go somewhere many films don’t which is to deal with Germans who didn’t quite follow the party line in a number of small and significant ways.

To bring those thoughts and emotions to life, and to show them truly (even to show them in a conflicted manner and still engender empathy) is the grand task of this fine cast. Perhaps it’s symbolically apropos that they each call a different nation home and portray German characters (US, Canada, Australia, England and Germany respectively). Taking that fact into consideration they also blend seamlessly well with one another and handle the anglicized German dialect they’re given superbly. Sophie Nélisse in my estimation had her breakout role with Monsieur Lazhar; here however her role is larger still, more dialogue-driven and in accented English such that her feat is perhaps even more impressive and she’s well on her way to becoming a household name. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson play two diametrically opposed types and parents, but the end result and the emotions the engender and exude in the end must be the same making their characters fairly ideal dramatic foils if those inhabiting the roles deliver, which they do. Ben Schnetzer as Max has the task of being sickly much of the time, believably and naturally poetic and philosophical in the face of, and in tandem with his emotions. His performance is such that his presence lingers even when his image does not grace the screen. Last but not least there’s Nico Liersch who stands out as the revelation of this film for his well-rounded and sensitive portrayal of Rudy a character who pines for Liesel from the moment he is introduced but never comes across as a doormat in that or any other situation, as characters with that affectation can at times.

The Book Thief does eventually come through with very moving moments, and while doing so in a very populist manner does cause people to think and reflect on the varied reactions and actions of people during that era in history.