The Orator

The Orator


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The message from Samoan filmmaker Tusi Tamasese's impressively crafted debut is that your stature as a person has nothing to do with height, a theme he considers through the prism of family and community responsibility, notions of self-respect and society expectation. His is the first feature film to be made in Samoan and with an entire cast from the islands and, if it's a mark of the talent there, here's hoping it's not the last.

Like The Mirror Never Lies - which also showed at EIFF 2012 - Tamasese's film benefits from its unusual setting, allowing him to paint both an engaging character drama and a broader picture of the culture and customs of Samoa, from the oration of the title to the way in which tradition is woven into the fabric of the landscape.

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Saili (Fa’afiaula Sagote) and his wife Vaaiga (Tausili Pushparaj) are both outcasts. He, because he suffers from dwarfism, making his attempts to follow in his dead father's footsteps as the village chief almost impossible in the face of local mockery and she, cast out from her own village for having a child outside of wedlock. The two of them live with Vaiiga's now 17-year-old daughter Litia (Salamasina Mataia). Theirs is a relationship of comfort and support, where words aren't often necessary to express their deep bond.

Tamasese's film unfolds gently against its lush green, sun and moon-dappled backdrop by the way of small dramas. Litia runs into man and then village-wide trouble, Vaiiga's brother turns up to broker a reconciliation whether she wants it or not and Saili faces a daily battle to keep his parents' graves clear and a more internal fight with himself over issues of self-worth and forgiveness. Tamasese is a man interested in detail, of Samoa's land and customs, the interaction of people and in those moments when we face an inner debate with ourselves. Sagote, meanwhile, brings a soulfulness to Saili that keeps him sympathetic, even when pride and revenge threaten to be his undoing.

Although the slow-burn plot requires some patience initially, the stories gradually come together in a way that never feels contrived or forced, while the quiet emotions of Saili and his family crescendo to form and intense emotional heat that sees not just him but almost everyone else in his orbit face some difficult and soul-searching choices. Like Saili himself, this proves to be a thoughtful little gem.

Reviewed on: 18 Jul 2012
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A Samoan farmer defends his land and family while coming to terms with himself.
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Director: Tusi Tamasese

Writer: Tusi Tamasese

Starring: Fa’afiaula Sagote, Tausili Pushparaj, Salamasina Mataia, Ioata Tanielu

Year: 2011

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: New Zealand

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