Thursday, June 08, 2006

WAH-WAH - beautifully crafted family drama

WAH-WAH is a beautifully crafted drama set in Swaziland at the time when the British handed over power. The stunning landscape made me homesick for Kenya, and the depiction of the alcoholism, adultery and class hypocrisy among the Country Club colonials seemed authentic judging by my flimsy knowledge of these matters. Certainly, the fact that the movie was written and directed by the actor, Richard E. Grant of WITHNAIL AND I fame, and is loosely autobiographical, helps establish credibility. The movie is a perceptive and closely observed chronicle of the British Empire in its dieing days as reflected in the life of a teenage boy called Ralph. His mother has left his father for a close friend’s husband in true Happy Valley fashion. He comes home to find that his father has hit the bottle and remarried a blowsy but kind-hearted American. Everyone in town seems to observe the most strict social standards in public, but play the field in private. When Ralph’s mother is cut by the wife of the Governor, she hisses, “I am not invisible.” Lady Hardwick replies, “No, you are a divorcée, which is worse.” The use of puppets and the theatre as an extended metaphor for this charade is inspired. Moreover, it allows some nice sending up of amatuer luvvies which provides much needed comic relief. In addition, away from the domestic troubles and Colonial issues, there is some coming-of-age material which seems a million miles away from the usual cliched script-fodder. I particularly liked the scene where Ralph sneaks in for an over-18 film.

This is not a movie of whistles and bangs, or melodramatic scenes such as found in OUT OF AFRICA. But it contains some masterful performances by the likes of Gabriel Byrne (the father), Miranda Richardson (the mother), Emily Watson (“The American”!), Celia Imrie (Lady Hardwick), Julie Walters (the friend) and young Nicholas Hoult (the kid from ABOUT A BOY) as Ralph. The script is emotionally involving without ever seeming mawkish and the Pierre Aïm’s photography is lushly beautiful. (A bit of a surprise as the last thing I saw of his was LA HAINE!)

I strongly urge you to see this movie.

WAH-WAH showed at Toronto 2005 and is on limited release in the UK and the US. It goes on release in Australia on July 22nd.

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