By: Oberst von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
On the Island of Tanna in the South Pacific, the Melanesian people live very much like they have for as long as they can remember. And for as long as anyone can remember, marriages have been arranged among the tribes as a way of tying together allegiances. Love-Marriage is mostly unknown, until tribesman Dain and tribeswoman Wawa defy their parents and sleep together. The relationship directly impedes the plans of Wawa’s family, who had planned to use her marriage to the son of the leader of a rival village as a way of cooling recent violent tensions that have resulted in multiple deaths. Effectively banished from the village, the couple soon find themselves hunted by members of the rival village, who are seeking vengeance for perceived disrespect.
Directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean shot the entirety of Tanna in the languages of the people from the island, while living among the people and using them as actors as they went about their daily business. The film borrows its story from the true story from their history, and immerses you deeply into the culture of the people. The film is beautifully shot, utilizing the stunning jungle and volcanic landscapes of the island of Tanna to full advantage. By that token, though, the film never feels like it is intruding too far into the lives of the people, but rather allowing them to offer a piece of their lives for the camera. There is nothing intrusive or exploitative here, which is always a danger when using non-actors in a film. The film also has a sly sense of humor on occasion, most notably in sequence in the film where the two wander seek asylum at a camp of Christians, whose behavior weirds them out enough that they decide they would rather risk life and limb elsewhere than stick around.
The story Tanna tells is a good, simple base to work from for a group of non-actors, as it is pulled from their own history and reflects Western notions of the Shakespearian Tragedy. This allows it to be easily absorbed for audiences of numerous backgrounds, but it also doesn’t feel like it is digging particularly deep in terms of the island’s culture. It has the feel of the director/screenwriters hand-picking elements of the Melanesian people that are relatable to Western audiences. The result is the film sometimes can feel to be at a bit of a distance from its characters and emotion. Fortunately the chemistry between the two principle lead performers carries a lot of dramatic weight.
It seems so strange how a modern day Romeo and Juliet story comes from the least modern of places. But that’s what Tanna is, and it’s a thing of beauty.
Tanna (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for casual nudity upsetting your Western Nouveau-Victorian sensibilities
Take a Drink: whenever you get a subtle hint of the year the movie actually takes place, and realize how unimportant that is in the big picture.
Do a Shot: for penis sheaths
Do a Shot: for crazy Christians