Nominated for Best Foreign Film, Tanna is an incredible window onto a Stone Age way of life as it persists in the modern era. The Yakel people of the island of Vanuatu tell their own true story of events that occurred in 1987, with help from some non-indigenous filmmakers. (This is no documentary. The movie is gorgeously photographed and skillfully acted.)
I love movies that take place in a Paleolithic world. Humanity has existed in a tribal, hunter-gatherer mode for most of its existence. And thus stories like this can’t help but take on a mythic quality that rocks you right to the bones. If you’ve heard about this film, you’ve probably heard that the story is strikingly similar to Romeo & Juliet. And it is, but with, y’know, volcano worship; bows and arrows; and songs delivered from a Spirit Goddess.
Wawa (Marie Wawa) is a young girl who has just gone through the ceremony declaring her a woman. She’s in love with the chief’s handsome grandson, Dain (Mungau Dain). But when she is offered as a bride in an arranged marriage with a rival tribe, the young lovers elope. Their actions risk the lives of their tribe and the very foundation of their ancient culture.
The DVD transfer by Lightyear Entertainment is beautiful. I wish I had gotten the Blu-ray to review. The cinematography by Bentley Dean is ravishing. The sound design and score are also awards-worthy and given a fine presentation.
For bonus features, the disc contains a series of short documentaries which cover the making of the film, its winning the Venice Film Festival and the tribe’s reaction to seeing the completed film. They are brief, but filmmakers and the generally curious will find them interesting.
This is a hell of a cinematic experience. I would recommend this movie to pretty much anyone, pre-teen and older. If you can get past the ‘National Geographic’ veneer, you’ll enjoy an incredibly human and epic story of family loyalty and love’s blindness. If you’ve enjoyed movies that bring ancient ways to life — Apocalypto, The Mission or Ten Canoes (which was screened for the Yakel people as inspiration) — Tanna is an absolute must!
Tanna comes available on DVD and Blu-ray today in North America. And if you ever get the chance to see it on the big screen — take it!
Full disclosure: This review is unpaid but a DVD was provided by the publisher.