Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tanna: This year's Creed

I'll explain that potentially confounding title in a moment, but first:

Fucking Tanna.

Excuse my language, but that's all I could say in December, after my second viewing of Australia's first best foreign language Oscar nominee: "Fucking Tanna." And if that needs explaining, I'm not mad at Tanna. Far from it. In fact, it had so reduced me, emotionally, that the only way I could think to describe its impact on me was to call out its pernicious effectiveness as an example of a medium designed to manipulate us -- in the best sense of that word -- via a slow shake of the head and a seemingly incongruous expletive.

You've heard of Tanna by now, if you follow the Oscars, but you certainly wouldn't have heard about it last August, when I first watched it, or last December, when I confirmed its lofty spot in my year-end rankings with a rewatch. So Friday night's viewing was the third one, as it took its rightful spot in the lineup of this year's Human Rights Arts & Film Festival (HRAFF), which I helped curate. A rightful spot we were determined to deny it because the movie is already available on DVD and digital rental, a reality that made us less likely to sell tickets to it.

Or so we thought in September. But as the months went along and it ultimately got an Oscar nomination, we thrust it back into contention, and there it was in the program. And it turns out our optimism was justified. Last night's showing was not a sellout, but it was damn near close, and the co-director, Bentley Dean, appeared afterward for a Q&A, coming across as thoughtful, gracious and funny. I shook his hand afterward, in part because my wife was talking to him -- she had helped approve some funding for Tanna in her job with the Victorian film body, and was in fact thanked in the credits. Which was the cherry on the top of her first viewing last night, the other cherry being that she loved it (almost) as much as I do.

So what does this movie have to do with Creed?

I'll tell you.

1) Both were my #2 ranked movie of their respective years, consecutive years as it happens.

2) Both were movies I gave five stars on Letterboxd.

3) Both were movies I saw three times before a year had passed since my first viewing.

4) In both cases, I saw them a third time before I saw the only movie that bested them, my #1 of the year, a second time. Last year I saw Inside Out for a second time only a few days after my third Creed viewing. I have yet to see Toni Erdmann a second time, though I'm not currently expecting to see it tomorrow, to complete the parallel.

5) The dates of the viewings even align in a sort of weird way. Although the first viewings were not aligned, date-wise (August vs. November), my second viewings of each movie came only a few weeks apart (Creed on November 30th, Tanna on December 15th), and the third viewings were only a month apart on the calendars of their respective years -- exactly a month apart, in fact (Creed on June 12th of last year, Tanna on May 12th of this year).

6) And I'm not going to even talk about the shared skin color of the stars of both films because that's really not relevant, and the cultures of the people in question are as different as they could be. The only reason I'm even not talking about it, as it were, is because I can't avoid the allure of even superficial similarities when making this type of side-by-side comparison.

There's even a funny way the films are inversely related, in terms of my own experience watching them. In the case of Creed, I saw it the first two times in the theater before seeing it a third on video (for my wife's first time). It was the opposite with Tanna, as I did not see it in the theater until the third viewing -- which was also my wife's first time.

And I don't know if it was because of that theatrical setting for my third viewing, but here's the part where my experience with the two films diverges. While I was conscious of my appreciation of Creed dropping just a tick on the third viewing, it was the opposite with Tanna. I feel like each viewing of this beautiful, touching, magnificent film is giving me a little more than the one before it, which is crazy, because I gave it five stars after the first viewing. Simply put, I spent most of my Friday Tanna viewing tingling with the same goosebumps I lamented not getting in this post.

Funnily enough, there's also a Tanna connection to that post I just linked to, discussing the thrills I'm not getting from movies that rely too heavily on CG (Goosebumps being the example in that post). You wouldn't expect CG to be a word that would come anywhere near a movie set on the island of Vanuatu and enacted by the natives in a recreation of a story from their own history. But in the Q&A afterward, it somehow came up that a very small amount of computer graphics was indeed necessary. There's a scene in the film where two tribes exchange kava and pigs to symbolize a peace treaty between them, but apparently, they did not finish filming before someone thought they were done and roasted one of the pigs. So, yes indeed, a pig was inserted digitally.

Could have fooled me.

So here's hoping this little additional dose of Tanna-related PR will bring more eyeballs to this phenomenal achievement.

See it. Love it.

If you do the former, you won't be able to help doing the latter.

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