You just can’t beat a simple story told well – not that simplicity need necessarily be divorced from profundity.
Australian filmmakers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean have taken their crew to one of the islands of Vanuatu and, with local tribesmen and women as their cast, produced a remarkable movie in which a compelling narrative is closely attuned to the murmurings of the heart. It’s all about love, with an echo of Shakespeare’s star-crossed teenagers underpinning the drama.
Wawa has come of age. She is a beautiful girl being prepared for the duties and responsibilities of the traditional ways – which includes being offered to another tribe in an arranged marriage. But Wawa wants to go her own way, for she is in love with Dain, the chief’s handsome grandson. Whatever the youngsters lack in acting experience is more than made up for by their magnetic presence and a naturalness that is impossible to fake – Dean’s camerawork is especially good at highlighting the emotions, from joy to turmoil, that fleet across his characters’ faces.
Likewise with Wawa’s mischievous little sister, Selin – the scene in which we catch her crying is as intense as any you might expect from a Hollywood veteran. As in Romeo and Juliet, there are feuding parties involved and it’s when Wawa is promised to a hostile tribe as a peace-making chattel that she takes matters into her own hands in an effort to avoid being separated from Dain. Initially, I was under the impression that the story was set in pre-colonial days, not unlike Rolf de Heer’s ‘Ten Canoes’ (2006), but an unexpected link to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip puts events in the recent past and, to be honest, briefly takes the wind out of the movie’s sails.
Intoxicating cinematography is complemented by a brooding, spare score from Antony Partos that never intrudes on the sounds of chooks and pigs and footfall – and the incredible rumbling of the volcano.
You can catch this wonderful movie at the Community Centre on November 25.