Told in what is essentially eight vignettes, Vai explores the various stages in which Vai comes of age - as a young girl to a young woman to an elder. Each vignette features a different version, so to speak, of Vai - as she exists in different times and different Pacific Islands. If this sounds unwieldy, I assure you it isn't - each vignette flows beautifully into the next and each narrative is succinct and precise.
The film is beautiful to look at. Drew Sturge, the film's director of photography, beautifully captures the different textures that the setting of each vignette offers. From the deep blues of the sea in Fiji to the pale browns of a small Tongan village to the lush greens of Samoa. These places feel absolutely alive. Much like Waru, much of each vignette is presented in one continuous take. Although there are a few instances where the film deviates from this choice, it never calls attention to itself. Also of note is Lauren King's mesmerizing score. Used only sparingly throughout but effectively and never intrusively. Performances are exceptional across the board, young and old, each of the actresses brings an exceptional level of nuance and heart to Vai as well as making her their own in each of their respective vignettes.
I would say this is the best film I've seen so far this year, and a film I would dare compare to Richard Linklater's Boyhood or Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. It is such a profound character study and also a deep dive into identity and the relationship between identity and our culture. How much our own identities are formed by our culture, the places we live and the places we came from. Each vignette explores a specifically different Pasifika identity, and in doing so highlights the value of ancestry and cultural heritage to one's own identity, in a way that I can't say I've seen in a film before. Vai, no matter where, how, or at what age she exists in time, is shaped by those who came before her and where they came from.
I found myself profoundly moved by Vai, and left the cinema invigorated in a way that I hadn't been coming out of a film in a while. This is a film that makes me proud of our industry, and motivated as a filmmaker.