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Review: Tanna is a smart, refreshing story of star-crossed lovers

Tanna was filmed on filmed on the untouched-by-time island country of Vanuatu using untrained actors.

Title
Tanna
Written by
Martin Butler, John Collee, Bentley Dean,
Directed by
Martin Butler, Bentley Dean
Starring
Marie Wawa, Mungau Dain
Classification
PG
Country
Australia, Vanuatu
Language
Nauvhal

Tanna would have made a fine animated feature, not that it isn't a lovely-to-look-at romantic drama. As well, apparently inspired by a true story, Tanna has all the ingredients for a compelling documentary. Or a play – Romeo and Juliet meets South Pacific, perhaps. Now that you know what Tanna isn't, here's what it is: A straightforward story about star-crossed lovers, filmed on the untouched-by-time island country of Vanuatu using untrained "actors" who probably have never watched a film, let alone starred in one. Nominated as the Australian entry for best foreign-language film at this year's Academy Awards, the allegorical Tanna is about warring tribalism, stubbornly held traditions, harsh coming-of-age realities and curious loincloth situations. A young couple who believe a volcano is a god are weirded out by Christians. (Religious types watching the film may laugh at the islanders' spiritual primitivism, but the joke's on them.) A couple or 11 fewer volcano shots wouldn't have been missed, but otherwise the film uses its 100 minutes smartly. Emotional notes are hit neatly and refreshingly. We learn that times change but people don't – except that they can and sometimes do.

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