Magazine article Screen International

'Tanna': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Tanna': Review

Article excerpt

Dirs/prods. Bentley Dean, Martin Butler. Aus-Vanuatu, 104 mins.

They wear grass skirts and penis shields and eschew Western influences but more importantly for this film, it transpires that the little-known people of Yakel, a village in Tanna (a small island in the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu), are natural-born actors. In fact, their enthusiastic story-telling and nicely-moderated performances are quite remarkable, and should elevate Tanna past being an ethnographic curio into niche festival play and perhaps even select arthouse, depending on whether buyers respond to the tribe's appealing purity.

In Tanna, the Yakel give a sprightly rendition of their own true story which has the ring of Romeo And Juliet about it but is never predictable - although admittedly the film runs into South Sea longeurs at 104 minutes and could accommodate some trims. Rolf De Heer's Ten Canoes is clearly an an antecedent. Viewers may come for the Vanuatu vistas (of which there are many), but will leave having experienced the ages-old skill of tribal storytelling expertly communicated through a modern medium.

World premiering in Venice's Critic's Week sidebar, Tanna is drawn from and in the tribe's real, everyday life. Spoken in the Nauvhal tongue, the film is completely cast from non-actors - in fact all the principals lead an otherwise traditional life. Two story threads are set on a collision course: tomboyish young Selin (Rofit) is taken by her grandfather, who is also the tribe's Shaman, to the active volcano Yahul, whom they regard as their Earth mother, to learn respect. …

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