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Film / Tanna

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Tanna is a 2015 film from Australia, directed by Martin Butler and Bentley Dean.

Wawa is a young woman of the Yakel tribe, living on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. She is blossoming into adulthood, and thus is being prepared for marriage. According to local custom, or rather "kastom", Charlie the village chief will match her up with a suitable husband. When the enemy Imedin tribe attacks Wawa's grandfather, fighting breaks out. Eventually the chief pledges Wawa to an Imedin warrior in order to make peace.

However, Wawa is in love with handsome Dain, grandson of their tribe's chief. They have been engaging in clandestine meetings in the jungle, with Selin occasionally spying on them. The lovers resolve to stay together, no matter what, even as their tribal elders demand that Wawa submit to them and enter into her arranged marriage, in accordance with village custom.

Shot on location on the island of Tanna, with a cast exclusively made up of people who live in the area, playing roles similar to what they really are in Real Life (a chief plays a chief, a shaman plays a shaman, etc). All the dialogue is in the local language of Nivhaal, which allowed Tanna to be the first Australian production to get an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

Compare Tabu, a silent film from 1931, set in Polynesia rather than Melanesia, but with a similar theme of forbidden romance and flight.


  • Arranged Marriage: How young people of the Yakel are supposed to get married. Wawa is not on board.
  • Based on a True Story: The opening title claims that the film is based on a true incident that occurred in 1987.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Wawa and Dain kill themselves. But the tragedy leads the tribe to adopt marriage for love as a custom, and the mood for the future is hopeful.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The Christian church on the island, which Selin's grandfather shows her as part of a talk about corrupting foreign influences. Dain and Wawa flee to there after the tribe demands that she enter into an Arranged Marriage. After the Christians's fervent piety gives them the creeps, Dain and Wawa leave.
    • The poisonous mushrooms which grow on trees, first pointed out to Selin by her grandfather as a warning. Dain picks some after he's thrown out of the tribe. Eventually he and Wawa eat them.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Discussed Trope, as the elders of the tribe are desperate to end the violence with the Imedin.
    Charlie: We can't allow the cycle of killing to begin again.
  • Dance Party Ending: A rather unconventional one, as the members of the tribe dance and sing after the tragedy leads them to decide to allow "love marriage".
  • Driven to Suicide: Wawa and Dain kill themselves by eating poison mushrooms, rather than being split apart.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Maybe not as big a deal when everyone is mostly naked anyway, but a boy of the tribe is greatly annoyed when Selin steals his penis sheath.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: As Wawa and Dain eat wild honey from a honeycomb, they pronouce that "life is sweet". The film then cuts to a closeup of the bees on the honeycomb, accompanied by angry buzzing. The next closeup shows the men of the tribe racing through the jungle, on the hunt for Wawa and Dain.
  • Karma Houdini: The Imedin tribesmen who assault Wawa's grandfather and start the whole tragic cycle never suffer for it.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Lots and lots. The men wear only "penis sheaths" and the women wear only grass skirts. (Wawa and some of the other younger women sometimes wear a sort of grass vest as well.)
  • One-Woman Wail: Heard on the soundtrack at various emotional moments, like when Dain takes off for the volcano after he's thrown out of the tribe, or when Wawa meets him there after fleeing.
  • The Place: The island of Tanna in Vanuatu.
  • Scenery Porn: Good God. A visit to "Yahul", aka Mount Yasur, an active volcano, stands out.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Wawa and Dain wind up killing themselves after finally realizing there's no way for them to be together.
  • Together in Death: Wawa and Dain are found dead on the lip of the volcano, still nestled together, having both eaten poison mushrooms.