The Samoan way of life rarely hits the news headlines. It was not until anthropologist Margaret Mead published her account of adolescent sexuality The Coming of Age in Samoa that anyone took notice of these Pacific Islands - for all the wrong reasons.
It seemed that Samoan teenagers were rather casual about their sexual relations at an early age, but Mead's findings were later contested by fellow anthropologists.
Since then Samoa has rather slept through history, except for the occasional national rugby team victory.
Samoan director Tusi Tamasese is determined to bring his country into the cinematic world by creating the first film in the Samoan language with a cast of actors drawn from the islands.
Shot on the main island of Upolu, The Orator looks gorgeous and may inspire a few tourists to make the effort to visit the islands' undoubted scenic spots.
What they will find there is a Pacific Island culture that bears some similarities to our own remote Aboriginal communities - in the sense of isolation, rituals peculiar to the place and the slowness of life itself.The Orator reflects these qualities by telling its story at the same slow pace of life in the various communities which, like Aboriginal communities, are riven by family tensions and tribal rivalries.And because of the tensions, the Samoan culture has set up its own ways of solving problems - mainly by a form of verbal jousting that is a substitute for warfare. There is a lot of posturing but the power of the argument lies with the tongue not the spear. This oratory gives the film one of its themes, which is the desire of the central character Saili, a taro farmer and a dwarf, to succeed to the chieftainship of his community.To do so would require the oratory powers of the current chief, who is not too impressed by Saili's diminutive form, or his morose, almost wordless demeanour. Only in the final scenes does Saili find the courage to give voice to his feelings and plead for his wife's honour.The Orator is a fascinating journey into Samoan life, but the slow pace of this way of life does make for a slow-paced film. There are lots of scenes where Saili is shown deep in thought, or his wife Vaaiga is sitting weaving the mats that are a major cultural occupation.The Orator does have its dramatic highpoints and the verbal-jousting conclusion is well staged by the cast of Samoans, who were drawn from the villages on Upolu. And Fa'afiaula Sagote, who plays Saili, really is a taro farmer.
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