Film Review – Tanna (2015)

Title – Tanna (2015)

Directors – Martin Butler and Bentley Dean (feature debut)

Cast – Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Kapan Cook, Dadwa Mungau

Plot – On the South-Pacific island of Tanna, members of the Yakel people Dain (Dain) and Wawa (Wawa) fall in love against the wishes and customs of their culture and find themselves on the run looking to escape their lives and live happily ever after.

“Go back to our beginnings, hear the wisdom of the ancestors and live once more in harmony”

Review by Eddie on 25/08/2017

The fact that the little known Australian backed film Tanna was nominated this year at the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category is quite the feat.

A film that barely saw recognition when it was released in Australian cinemas early last year, Tanna all of a sudden found itself competing on the world’s biggest cinematic stage and it’s lovely to see such a low key Australian effort make it to the Dolby Theatre, even if Martin Butler and Bentley Dean’s film isn’t the sum of its parts.

Before delving into Tanna the film, it’s worth noting that the very fact that this movie exists and the background behind it makes it a film worth talking about, if not a film you’ll be recommending to many people come the closing credits.

An Australian/Vanuatu co-production that’s filmed entirely in one of the local islands native dialects and stars villagers of the country who are not only non-professional’s, but also actors who’d never seen a camera let alone a motion picture, directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean went too great lengths to bring this true story to life.

Like a real life stripped backed Romeo and Juliet, Tanna tells the story of lovebirds Dain and Wawa as they fight to be together against the rules of their tribe and people and are outcast, left to traverse the naturally beautiful landscape of their surrounds.

It’s within this that Butler and Dean deliver some truly stunning cinematography and bring about naturalistic performances from their learning on the job cast, these elements combine and work together wonderfully with acclaimed composer Antony Partos’s score and Gladiator songstress Lisa Gerrard’s vocals and it gives Tanna a much needed boost when its less successful combinations come to the forefront.

For such a unique motion picture it’s a real shame Tanna’s central story feels so generic and unengaging, we never feel a connection to Dain and Wawa, partly due to skin deep performances but largely due to the delivery of stilted dialogue and a fact that the actual story itself isn’t that original.

You can’t help but escape the feeling that such a one-off piece of work would’ve benefited from taking more risks with its narrative and while it can’t be an easy task for foreign filmmakers to work in the conditions that Tanna set itself up for, there’s never an excuse for a film of this ilk to delve into boredom inducing lulls or such forceful script work, no matter the language.

Final Say –

Full credit to the Australian film industry for getting behind such a grand vision and what a fantastic cue for such a low-key Australian event to find itself a whole new audience on the biggest stage in Hollywood but while Tanna is a pretty and well intentioned tale of forbidden romance in a totally majestical setting, there’s nothing that special about the story it tells or how it tells it, making Tanna a disappointing but a never less than curious affair.

2 1/2 angry volcano’s out of 5

To read more about the incredible story behind Tanna see below –

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