“TANNA”— The Power of Love”


The Power of Love”

Amos Lassen

Set on a remote Pacific island, covered in rain forest and dominated by an active volcano, “Tanna” is the story of a sister’s loyalty, a forbidden love affair and the pact between the old ways and the new. Wawa falls in love with her chief’s grandson but when war with their enemies escalates, she becomes betrothed as part of a peace deal. The young lovers run away, but are pursued by warriors of both tribes.  With their lives on the line, the star-crossed lovers must choose between their hearts and the future of the tribe.

The film is based on a true story that took place in 1987 in one of the world’s last tribal societies.  The people of Yakel, on the island of Tanna, are fully aware of the outside world, but have chosen to live according to the ways of their ancestors, after resisting the colonial powers that once controlled the area, the missionaries that tried to assimilate them to a Western way of life, and the temptation of money.  The film was made with the full collaboration of the islanders and is the first feature film to be shot entirely in the nation of Vanuatu, an archipelago of 83 islands and an estimated 110 different languages.  On Tanna is an active volcano, which plays an important part in the film, as well as in the culture of the tribe.

None of the cast had ever acted before. They still hunt with bows and arrows and make their clothes and houses entirely from materials gathered in the surrounding jungle. None of them had ever seen a movie before this.

Wawa (Marie Wawa) meets a fellow tribe member, Dain (Mungau Dain), the grandson of her village’s chief, Charlie (Chief Charlie Kahla). According to the traditions of her Yakel tribe, Wawa is expected to have an arranged marriage with Imedin, a man from a rival tribe in an attempt to bring peace to both tribes. She goes against tradition by falling in love with Dain and secretly spending time with him. Only her younger sister, Selin (Marceline Rofit), knows about her secret.

Each of the actors gives a natural performance, and we sense the chemistry between Wawa and Dain l. This is a film filled with humanism and there are several sweet and uplifting moments during the beautiful love story that we see here. Watching it is a feast of both the eyes and soul. Directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean’s blend a fictional narrative loosely modeled on Romeo and Juliet with a docudrama about the Yakel tribe.

The setting is in a green and leafy wooded portion of Tanna that is presided over by a volcano that is considered to be a place of worship. Materials for clothes are hammered out on rocks, while mothers and daughters discuss the political textures of their lives. Shaman come to the volcano to preach of maturity to unruly youth, and lovers go to the peak to consummate their affection. Throughout the film there’s a sense that the narrative and the setting are at odds with one another but none of this matters as the audience sits stunned by the beauty on the screen.

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