Tanna was probably the most obscure feature film nominated at last year’s Academy Awards, though the nomination itself will allow more people to see it—and I hope they do. Because if nothing else, Tanna has an elemental beauty that is difficult to resist, and the lives and rituals of the Vanuatuan tribes are captured with a superb degree of fidelity and sensitivity. Co-director Bentley Dean’s cinematography is marvelous; the shots around the active volcano, especially when the characters are silhouetted against it, are so dreamy and yet subtly foreboding enough to keep within the tone. The score is also smartly landscaped, sounding earthy and human, but never overbearing.
The story told here is true, re-enacted decades after the fact, though it’s fairly straightforward and (what’s more) familiar. It is perhaps best not to watch this for the plot. Instead, soak in the visual imagery. Introduce yourself to a culture that you may not have encountered before. Take in the moment and savour it, because the visuals are worth treasuring.