Movie Review: Tanna (Australia)

Marriage in the island is a form of a sister-exchange, bilateral cross-cousin marriage. The ideal marriage partner is a child of one’s mother’s brother, or father’s sister, although many people marry less closely related classificatory cross cousins. The ideal marriage also consists of a sister exchange between two men. Many marriages, in actuality, involve complex transactions in which women are “swapped” among three or more families. Many men obtain a wife by exchanging a classificatory sister or some other female relative. Some promise a firstborn daughter in return for her mother. A concern for balance governs marriage, as it does all other forms of exchange. With sister exchange, every marriage entails another, and divorce is very uncommon. Should a marriage fail, the wife’s family must provide the husband’s family with another woman in order to maintain the exchange balance.

Tanna is a 2015 Australian film set on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific, telling the true story of a couple who decided to marry for love, rather than obey their parents’ wishes. The film won the Audience Award Pietro Barzisa at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival. It was selected as the Australian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. Today it debuts in the Philippines as part of a line up of movies in the Asian on Screen Film Festival 2016.

The film was shot entirely on location. Bentley Dean lived with his family for seven months in Tanna. Most of the cast played their own roles in the film. The chief played the chief, the medicine man played the medicine man, the warriors played the warriors. Dain was cast because he was considered the village’s most handsome man. The film is shot in the Navhal and Nafe languages. The cast did not regard the filming as being difficult because the roles they were performing is part of their daily life. This is Martin Butler and Dean’s third collaboration, after the documentaries Contact and First Footprints. Dean came to Vanuatu in 2003 to research a story on the John Frum movement for Dateline and wanted to return there to create something larger. Dean wanted to tell a local story and give his children a chance to live in the village, and developed the storyline in collaboration with the Yakel people.

The movie captures the life of one of the last traditional tribes in the world. The scenes are captured in vivid earthy colors with scenes of the active volcano Mount Yasur. It gives you an insight of a world that hasn’t been seen in cinema which makes the movie very precious and unique. I liked the movie because it not only shows you a different world and a different culture but the story also allows you to feel the intensity of moments of despair and the celebration of life.

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