Urban Cinefile
"I knew that this experience was not going to come around again"  -Jonathan Pryce on his role in Evita
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



SYNOPSIS: In one of the last traditional tribes in the South Pacific, a young girl, Wawa (Marie Wawa), falls in love with the chief's grandson, Dain (Mungau Dain). When an inter-tribal war escalates, Wawa is unknowingly betrothed as part of a peace deal. The young lovers run away, but are pursued by enemy warriors intent on killing them. They must choose between their hearts and the future of the tribe, while the villagers must wrestle with preserving their traditional culture and adapting it to the increasing outside demands for individual freedom. Based on a true story and performed by the people of Yakel.

Review by Louise Keller:
Lush green forests, crystal waterfalls, an angry volcano and a tribe of life-loving people intent on preserving the customs and traditions of their Vanuatu ancestors form the heart of this cinematic film in which a poignant Romeo and Juliet tale plays out. Winner of the Audience Award at Venice International Film Critics' Week, directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler have created a stunning visual essay in the unspoilt tropical paradise of Vanuatu's Tanna. Using rich cinematic language, Dean and Butler allow us to observe the tribal customs and traditions of the people of Yakel. Locals who have never acted before bring the largely improvised story to life: an arranged marriage designed to keep the peace between tribes and the two young lovers willing to defy everything for each other. Based on a true story; emotions, traditions, peace - are all at stake.

You're all grown up; a beautiful butterfly, the chief's handsome son Dain (Mungau Dain) tells Wawa (Marie Wawa) as he spies her through the dense greenery. The setting is idyllic - extraordinary trees grounded by enormous roots, waterfalls into which children leap, a man singing as he sweeps leaves with a large tree branch, baby pigs suckling. The traditional face painting for Wawa's initiation ceremony is about to take place; modesty prompts her to hide her developing breasts. But the love story between Wawa and Dain does not follow a smooth path.

A volcano spits its fury in the distance and the undercurrent of intertribal rivalry and war becomes apparent as we learn that Wawa's newly arranged betrothal is the promise between two warring tribes to keep the peace. The lyrics of a traditional song recount the tale.

Bentley Dean's cinematography is breathtaking - the saturation of the colours is extraordinary. The film is worth seeing for the visuals alone. The haunting sounds of Lisa Gerrard's distinctive vocalizing is the intoxicating thread with which the narrative holds together - along with Antony Partos' rich score. Dean and Butler spent seven months living with the inhabitants of Tanna while making the film. The result is unique.

For those interested in history, Captain James Cook was the first European to visit Tanna in 1774. Its inhabitants colonised the island about 3,000 years ago from Papua New Guinea. Yakel is one of a few villages that retain the traditional Kastom lifestyle.

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(Aus, 2015)

CAST: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit, Chief Charlie Kahla

PRODUCER: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean, Carolyn Johnson

DIRECTOR: Bentley Dean, Martin Butler

SCRIPT: Bentley Dean, Martin Butler, John Collee in collaboration with the people of Yakei


EDITOR: Tania Michel Nehme

MUSIC: Antony Partos; vocals by Lisa Gerrard


RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 5, 2015

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020