The Orator, written and directed by Samoan native Tusi Tamasese, is the kind of film I imagine Robert Redford thinks of when he pictures a "Sundance film." Produced with a grant by the New Zealand film comission this is the first film ever to have been writen entirely in the Samoan language. But beyond that factoid is a challenging film about the struggle for the diminutive Saili (a dwarf) to come to grips with his own heritage and stand up for his familly.
Siali lurches through life (literally, his cumbersome gait is a large part of the film), exhausted, powerless. He resignedly battles plantation growers who encroach on his parents' burial site. He is subjected to the riducle and taunts of his fellow vilagers and he lumbers night after night to what is arguably the worst job in the village—night watchman outside the small town store. But his love and protection for his ailing wife and her daughter eventually pulls him out of his stupor.
Siali's pace is the pace of the film and to say the film is slow is an understatement. The movie is filled with scenes of total silence and quiet beauty. The action that shatters this silence builds in scenes of intensity that lead to its elegant climax. (Which are the most verbose scenes of the film, but after all it's called The Orator, but no spoilers here.)
This isn't a film that's going to win the academy award for best foreign film but it is precicely the kind of film that you should see at Sundance (or seek out after). This truthful rendering of Samoan life, including rarely seen rituals and customs, is an excursion into another world. Shot entierly in Samoa with non-actors, it's one of those films that unfolds its message and purpose slowly and, as such, is a subtle pleasure to watch.
The Orator plays three more times during the festival: Jan. 23 (Broadway), Jan. 27 (Holiday Village Cinema), Jan. 28 (Tower Theater).
Saili's wife Vaaiga in the lush Samoan film "The Orator"