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Saili, an unassuming villager & taro farmer, lives happily with his beautiful wife Vaaiga and her teenage daughter Litia. Their existence, whilst happy and peaceful; is unconventional. Vaiga has been banished from her ancestral village for many years. Saili faces serious threats to his plantation as well as his family & has been denied his fathers chiefly title. Life is complicated further by Litia's blossoming beauty that is getting the attention of the young men in the village. Matters ultimately come to a head, requiring Saili to speak up, speak out & defend all that he holds precious. Written by
'The Orator' is one of those films where the underdog themes of the story also represent the inspirational success of the film itself. This is not a perfect film, but it is an incredibly important one.
As the film's official synopsis points out, writer/director Tusi Tamasese's feature film debut is essentially a drama about age-old themes of 'courage, forgiveness and love'. Saili (Fiaula Sanote) is a dwarf who lives a simple life with as a farmer with his family in a rural village of Samoa in the Pacific Islands. Family quarrels soon begin to surface, with banishments, long-term sibling grudges and love affairs. Against all this, the humble yet cowardly Saili must find the courage to defend his land and his family.
The most interesting aspect of this film is the observation of the intricacies of the Samoan culture which has yet to be committed to cinema. Set in present day, 'The Orator' presents a contemporary society which is still heavily rooted in tradition.
There is a leadership system headed by wise village chiefs, traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, public natural baths, and a culture whose affinity with their ancestors is so close that they bury their loved ones in their front yard. The 'orating' which the title indicates to is the traditional way in which a village chief speaks on behalf of their village in formal settings.
Tamasese manages to convey a lot of these cultural concepts very subtly within a very universal tale, and without too much blatant exposition. Cinematographer Leon Narbey ('Whale Rider') captures the lush landscapes beautifully and at a very relaxed pace, yet without a made-for-tourists approach.
Almost the entire cast are first-time film actors. Thankfully their authenticity pays off because they get to portray seemingly very realistic Samoan characters. The film also finds time for some light-hearted moments, which should especially make the Pacific Islander audience laugh out loud.
'The Orator' is also significant because it is the first feature film to be shot entirely in the Samoan language so even more reason for people of Samoan heritage to see this film to grasp moments or funny phrases which may be lost in translation on other audiences.
This is an achievement in foreign independent cinema, and the fact that the film has already made the top 60 shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film category for next year's Oscars suggests that it's worthy viewing.
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