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In his final film, F.W. Murnau presents the tale of two young lovers on the idyllic island of Bora Bora in the South Pacific. Their life is shattered when the old warrior declares the girl to be the Chosen Maid and it is forbidden for any man to even look upon her. Refusing to accept a life apart, they run off to another island, one that is decadent and westernized. The boy works as a pearl diver but not quite understanding the concept of money, is soon in debt. When the old warrior tracks them down they again plan to run away but in a desperate attempt to pay off his debts, the boy dives for pearls in shark-infested waters. The boy is successful but fate seems determined to keep the two lovers apart. Written by
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1994. See more »
[writing a goodbye letter]
I must go. Hitu is here and waits for me. You will die if I do not obey. I will go so that you may live. The tabu is upon us. I have been so happy with you far more than I deserved. The love you have given me, I will keep to the last beat of my heart. Across the great waters, I will come to you in your dreams when the moon spreads its path on the sea. Farewell.
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This is a great film, one that actually benefits from being silent. The south-seas love story could seem incredibly hackneyed, but the sensitive silent presentation makes it all seem believable. Flaherty's painstaking ethnographic research pays off, establishing that we are getting a genuine look at Polynesian village life. The roles are played by actual villagers under their own names.
This was originally going to be a documentary like Nanook of the North, but Murnau got so fascinated by Polynesian legends told by the locals that he decided to incorporate them into the story. This also meant that he had to invest his own money in the film, as Hollywood would have none of it. Nowadays we think anything so beautiful couldn't be genuine, but Murnau and Flaherty seem to have constructed an accurate document.
The tragic love story has its parallel in real life, as Murnau was killed in a car-crash days after the film's completion.
The MTV generation is better able to appreciate silent films than the 60's crowd, so I recommend to viewers interested in something different.
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