Saturday, October 14, 2006

Wah-Wah (2005)

Wah-WahI've never really been a fan of Richard E Grant as an actor/celebrity, but if Wah-Wah is typical of what he can achieve as a writer/director then I'll be the first to say he's an under-estimated talent.

Wah-Wah,is named after the sound the rather snobbish Brits in the film make when they talk. They form the majority of the ex-pat community that is depicted in Swaziland where the film is set in what is a 'semi-autobiographical' account of Grant's life growing up in Africa.

I admired the film because it defies the conventions of most coming-of-age stories by not going for easy emotion, not forcing cliched characters that are either black or white and avoiding the easy narrative exaggeration that so many similarly-themed films have done in the past. It's a beautifully told, engaging film, thanks mainly to an excellent cast that includes Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson, Julie Walters, Miranda Richardson and Celia Imrie amongst others.

Grant proves an accomplished director, with some nice visual flourishes, that avoid being so flash that you're taken 'out of the moment'. The story is essentially that of a teenager coming to terms with impending adulthood after his adulterous mother has abandoned him and his father has turned to drink. Admittedly, this is hardly an original plot, but it is gently told in a film that is never less than engaging, with a nicely depicted backdrop of the winding down of Empire in far-flung lands.

It's disappointing to see that the American critics, summarised over at Rotten Tomatoes were far less generous than the British critics in reviewing the film, and the box office, even in the UK, was disappointingly small. We don't get many movies like this that feature a mainly British cast, and certainly not of this calibre, and whilst the subject matter may seem rather depressing this is essentially an upbeat film, albeit one with a very moving ending.

The transfer is an excellent anamorphic one, as is to be expected given that it was only released in cinemas here a few months ago. The advertised extra's are a 'Making of' documentary, interviews with cast and crew, and a theatrical trailer. This is about par for the course for a film this new, although the lack of a director's commentary, given how vocal Grant was around the time of the film's theatrical release is a little disappointing

The 'Making of' proves a pleasant surprise. Clocking in at over an hour this is not the usual Hollywood fluffy marketing piece intended to pre-sell the movie. It's a bit rough and ready in the editing department, and despite being presented in anamorphic widescreen, comes across very much as an 'amateur film maker's attempt at a documentary' (it wasn't shot by Grant and his crew), but gives good insight into how the film was shot and features interview extracts from all the main cast.

The cast and crew interviews are longer versions of the highlights inserted into the main 'Making of' featurette, and are probably only of interest to the cast and crew and their immediate family, but I guess it's nice to have them if you do fall into that category.

I enjoyed Wah Wah far more than its pre-release publicity, which hinted strongly at a depressing, melancholic film, would have indicated, and it's fairly obvious throughout that this was very much a labour of love from Grant. Definitely worth a rental, and possibly even a purchase. Highly recommended.

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