Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Tanna (EIFF 12)

Coincidentally, the second film in a row from the South Pacific:

There are still a few indigenous tribes in the world who intentionally reject the trappings of modern civilization, choosing to live the way their ancestors have lived for millennia. Three such tribes live on a Pacific island called Tanna in the nation of Vanuatu, where, in 1986, two of the tribes (the Yakel and the Imedin) were in a constant state of tension, watching for any opportunity to take revenge on their neighbours.

One day the Yakel village shaman (Albi Nangia) takes his defiant young granddaughter, Selin (Marcilene Rofit), to visit the active volcano at the centre of the island and try to talk her into being mores respectful toward her parents. But he is attacked and almost killed by two of the Imedin. The usual response to such an act would be a violent reprisal and Dain (Mangau Dain), the Yakel chief’s grandson, whose parents were killed by the Imedin, is ready to lead the attack. But the Yakel chief is given a song of peace from Mother Spirit and refuses to countenance violence. Instead, he contacts the third tribe (a peacemaking tribe) to set up a meeting between the warring chiefs. At that meeting, the chiefs exchange gifts and vows of peace. One of these gifts is the young Yakel woman, Wawa (Marie Wawa). But Wawa is in love with Dain and has no intention of going to the Imedin. 

Unfortunately for Wawa, tradition (kastom) dictates that marriages are arranged by parents and the chiefs, not by those involved. So Wawa and Dain decide to run away, resulting in a pursuit by both the Imedin and the Yakel that promises to have a fatal outcome. The only chance the young couple have is the intervention of the fearless Selin, who believes she knows where the couple have gone and is determined to find them before the Imedin do. 

Based on a true story, that is the first half (or more, sorry) of Tanna, a unique and astonishing film, not least because its ‘actors’ (all from the Yakel village on Tanna) have not only never acted before, they’ve never even watched a film before. Despite that fact, the acting is incredible, especially by Wawa, Dain and Rofit. That the acting is natural is no surprise, but it goes way beyond that. And the cinematography is breathtaking, though admittedly the filmmakers do have a lot to work with. The score, meanwhile, was perhaps the best I heard at the EIFF. The film is the work of Australian documentary filmmakers Bentley Dean and Martin Butler, who lived with the Yakel people for seven months before filming.

If the story of Tanna had been a little stronger and more original, building, for example, more effectively on some of the thoughts conveyed in the song of peace, Tanna would have received an easy four stars. As it is, Tanna gets a solid ***+, verging on ****. My mug is up. Don’t miss it on the big screen if you have a chance. 

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