Film Review: TANNA (Australia) ***


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tanna.jpgSet on a remote Pacific island, covered in rain forest and dominated by an active volcano, this heartfelt story, enacted by the Yakel tribe, tells of a sister’s loyalty, a forbidden love affair and the pact between the old ways and the new.

Directors: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean
Writers: Martin Butler, John Collee
Stars: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Tanna is the first film shot in the South Pacific nation of Vanuata, based on a true story that happened there in 1987 as interpreted by the Yakel tribe. Hardly a word of English is spoken in the film. The dialogue is totally in the tribal language which all the tribes in the story appear to be able to speak and communicate with each other with.
The film plays like a Romeo and Juliet story. The story centres on doomed, star-crossed lovers. There are two warring tribes but the lovers belong to the same tribe. The bride, Wawa (Marie Wawa) of the Yakel tribe is betrothed to the enemy Imedin tribe as a peace offering. But Wawa is in love with the grandson of the chief (Mungau Daen) and they have slept together already. The lovers escape to another part of the island. The chief (Chief Mikum Tainakou) of the Imedin tribe is furious and sends his men to find the lovers – to kill Daen the boy and bring Wawa back to be wed. Wawa’s father, Lingai (Lingai Kowia) also travels to find Wawa to bring her back and to warn Daen. And so the story goes.

When the film opens, the audience is immersed in a fairy tale land. It is interesting to see the customs and living practised in another country. The film works like a fairy tale just like African films made of their tribes such as the excellent 2004 film, MOOLAADE by Ousmane Sembène. The people are clothed with straw skirts and mostly topless. The children play unfamiliar games. The people live in strange-looking huts and they speak in a different language. Unfamiliar sights are displayed on screen – like a big black sow with piglets sucking from her nipples.

Directors Butler and Dean love to use the smoking volcanoes in their film – both as a metaphor and for its landscape beauty.

Though the story is set in a different land, the human problems encountered are not different. Love is once again restricted by social culture. The lovers are unable to show their love for one another in public. Wawa is forced to decide between the fate of her tribe and her personal desire for happiness.

The directors choose to tell their story from two points of view, from Wawa and from her younger sister Selin (Marceline Rofit). Selin is the prepubescent younger sister of Wawa who though still playing childish games like hide-and seek is aware of what is going on. She eventually helps her sister by aiding her tribe find Wawa and Daen. The audience sees as a result, how Wawa’s decision will affect the lives of Selin and the later generations.

The directors were reported to have spent 7 months living with the Yakel tribe to understand the tribal customs and to capture them accurately on the screen.

TANNA works as the perfect combination of an ageless romantic story of true love set in a fresh never seen before setting.


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