Many Danish Coming-of-Age films share common themes, and more often than not engage viewers of a younger age group.
Most often are based on popular children’s books, feature sympathetic young boys in the lead roles [see Rubber Tarzan (1981), I am William (2017) and Someone Like Hodder (2003)] and feature an element of a magical realism.
Pia Bovin’s 2002 film Wallah Be (Original title: Kald mig bare Aksel) shares some similarity traits with these Danish children’s films. Its protagonist is an impressionable ten-year-old boy named Alex who lives with his mother and elder sister at an apartment complex in the suburbs.
With his father missing, the boy is looking for an older role model to emulate. His neighborhood is filled with newly moved in Muslim families and soon Alex finds such a model in the older Muslim boys – who hang together, wear cool necklaces and get into all kinds of mischief. He is so impressed by them that he concludes that the only way to join them and be cool is to become a Muslim himself.
Wallah Be departs a bit from the magical realism of the Danish cinema in favor of attempting to normalize the new reality that many Danish cities have found themselves in because of the increased immigration from the east. I personally find such an agenda unsuitable for children’s films, although the story itself is still perfectly capable of captivating young audiences. Nonetheless, older viewers may feel a bit of unease.
Aside from the desire to become a Muslim (which ends up bringing some comic relief), Alex is preoccupied with a singing contest at the local youth club. Not everything goes smoothly as one member of his team – a young Muslim girl Fatima — has a hard time convincing her parents that it will be fine to perform on stage while the another team member, Annika, is preoccuping herself with the fate of a stray dog.
Although the charm of the Danish children’s cinema is present, Wallah Be never really manages to truly engage and captivate. This is not the fault of the cast who for most part delivers wonderful performances – especially Adam Gilbert Jespersen as Alex.
His charming appearance and talent enhances the sensible nature of the young character he portrays on screen. But, as a whole, the story is superfluous and lacks both the magic of Someone Like Hodder or the humor in I am William. As a result, I had to watch the film on several consecutive viewings as it would always bore me trying to view it in a single one.
That’s why I can not wholeheartedly recommend the film. Those fans of the Danish children’s films (and I am one of them) may find a few redeeming qualities, but generally the cinematic experience is disappointing.