5 October 2016 | david-rector-85092
Beautiful and visceral cinema. Degree of difficulty = 9 out of 10
'Tanna' is what cinema is all about. Storytelling using the visual medium to illuminate and transport the viewer into another world. Collaborators Bentley Dean and Martin Butler have long histories in journalism and magazine current affairs and have achieved success with their documentaries, but this is their first feature film. They have intrepidly ventured into the picturesque locale of the Vanuatu island of Tanna and its indigenous folk for this tale of star crossed lovers.
Whilst using an age old narrative theme, the conflict at the centre of 'Tanna' is whether to go with your heart or your head (here represented by tradition and tribal custom), the filmmakers have beautifully photographed and captured the daily life and tribulations of this somewhat cloistered population. Plucked from the very villages they were born and raised in, the performances are really fine; having been well cast to handle the daunting task of acting in a movie. Of particular note for me was the wonderful Marcelline Rofit as the younger sibling of the betrothed lead, played by Marie Wawa. Her eyes taking in everything around her and affected by the changes are really fascinating to observe through her perspective. Mungau Dain plays the forbidden object of desire for Wawa, and according to the filmmakers he was chosen for the leading role as he was the most handsome in his tribe. He has a perfect mix of sensitivity and strapping masculinity. The two leads work very well together. 'Tanna' makes filmmaking look easy, but the degree of difficulty cannot be underestimated here. With a remote location, a cast that had never seen a movie, let alone acted in one; the cultural respect and fascination of Dean & Butler is evident in their sensitive and at times majestic portrayal of the peoples of Tanna. Bentley Dean's evocative cinematography and Antony Partos' effective score add to the atmospheric feel of the look and sound of the film. There is some tart dialogue that injects some needed humour and humanity into what might have been a conventional story. For me, seeing filmmakers explore unchartered terrain; both cinematically and culturally engenders more enthusiasm for contemporary film. There are plenty of formulaic directors and writers perpetuating the same notions of mores and perspectives, so it is refreshing to spend a couple of hours with other peoples and other customs. And it is a most affecting and enriching experience.