Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Movie Review: "Tanna" (2016)

Director: Martin Butler & Bentley Dean
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Two members of a local tribe defy their elders, shun an arranged marriage, and decide to run off together in the hopes of marrying for love.

"Tanna" is directed by Martin Butler and Bentley Dean. It stars the people of the Yakel tribe, who comprise the entire cast. The film is said to be based on a local Yakel legend that has been told through song, one that bears a striking similarity to Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." The two principal characters are played by Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain, who share the same names of the characters from the legend. The film is told in the native languages of Nauvhal and Nafe. Wawa and Dain are in love, but when Wawa is offered as a peace offering to a warring tribe to take part in an arranged marriage, she and Dain defy their elders and run off together for the sake of their unbreakable bond and their undying love for one another.

Being that this is a film which stars the people of the Yakel tribe, it means they are all first-time actors. We're not trying to be mean when we say it definitely shows, but we have to tell the truth. This is not a big Hollywood production with seasoned actors. Most of the individuals in this movie are doing little more than reading their lines. We can somewhat forgive the emotionally flat acting considering they are all amateurs retelling an old folktale from their tribe. It was a bold and somewhat commendable move on the part of the crew of "Tanna" to use locals as actors rather than seeking out professionals to fill the major roles, and it gives the picture a sense of authenticity that would have been otherwise lacking.

The best part of this film is by far the cinematography, which was done by Bentley Dean himself. The scenery is extremely gorgeous considering it is shot in a forest/jungle setting on this volcanic island. Lush leaves, tall trees, sun-swept beaches, and molten lava fill the background with intensity, color, and vigor. These captivating images shot by Dean offset the nasty nature of the story as this woman and man are forced to either leave each other behind to follow tradition or to forge their own path and be shunned by everything and everyone they have ever loved.

As we mentioned above, this story feels all too familiar. Though it is one of this tribe's folk tales, it's a standard star-crossed lovers narrative. Two young people forced to pick between love and duty. It is not surprising which they pick, and quite frankly, neither is the ultimate outcome for that matter. The film feels a bit slow at times and isn't always super engaging. Despite all of this, it was nominated for best foreign language film at the 89th annual Oscars. We feel, however, "Tanna" was nominated more for its behind-the-scenes choices, such as its unique casting and technological attributes, which are far more compelling than what actually wound up on screen. The movie isn't terrible, it's just far from the best foreign film we saw in 2016.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 89%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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