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.