16 November 2005 | roland-104
What goes around comes around, Rotuman style
This film's title ("The Land Has Eyes" in English) is taken from a Rotuman saying, "The land has eyes and teeth and knows the truth." It reflects the conviction of the native population of Rotuma a tiny island 300 miles north of Fiji - that in time wrongs will be righted, and bad deeds will be avenged. Meanwhile, one must be patient and live in harmony with others, even one's enemies. A highly pragmatic philosophy when everybody is stuck on a tiny patch of land and they're all related to one another to boot.
Obtaining justice is an important subtext of this coming-of-age film, the first feature made by a Fijian native. The central character is a high school girl, Viki (Sapeta Sokagaito Taito, a 17 year old native Rotuman), who is smart and ambitious. Viki feels disrespected by her mother, who prefers to teach homemaking skills to Viki's older sister, not someone with the intellectual skills or backbone we see in Viki.
But there is a certain wisdom in the mother's stance. Viki gravitates toward her father, aiding him in more physically demanding tasks like coconut harvesting. More importantly, by staying close to him she also comes to identify with her father's faithful adherence to traditional folkways and beliefs, as well as his frustration when he is unjustly convicted of a crime of theft that he did not commit.
Unlike the young heroine in the Maori film, "Whale Rider," with which this film has much in common, Viki is not constrained by a misogynistic folk tradition that prohibits women from rising to strong community leadership roles. Indeed, the film opens with a reenactment of a Rotuman creation myth that shows the origin of the first ruler, Warrior Woman (played by Rena Owen, a Maori actress who starred in "Once Were Warriors").
Still, Viki and her family must contend with the crooked Poto, the man who framed Viki's father and tries to manipulate local authorities to choose his nephew over Viki to receive a scholarship for further schooling in Fiji. Fulfilling the promise of the film's title, things do work out at the end, though there is need for some of Warrior Woman's magic to finally make things right.
The screenplay, written by the director, is quite good, but the photography and editing are undistinguished, failing to evince much beauty in the tropical surroundings. The acting, apart from Ms. Taito's more than adequate turn, is also not first rate. The film is important, nonetheless, because it is a Fijian first and also because it provides a fascinating window into a culture most Westerners don't know. (In Rotuman & English) My rating: 6.5/10 (low B). (Seen on 04/16/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.