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Two anthropologists married to each other go to an island off of Papua New Guinea for field research in pre-World War II. Eventually the war breaks out and many lives are disrupted and complicated. Written by
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Visually stunning, but ultimately slow and disappointing.
If you have an interest in the scenery of the Pacific islands, then by all means see this film - there are some wonderful wide-screen images of the islands and their people to be had. Hats off to the crew (the director and camera crew in particular) who worked in tough, often muddy, conditions.
But if you are after an engaging and entertaining story involving characters you can identify with or against, then you're in for a let down. Put simply, "In A Savage Land" drags.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a film with a relaxed pace - not every movie has to be chop-chop, bang-bang. But this film just takes too long to say what it has to say. Even at the Brisbane premiere (the director/co-writer's home town), with an apparently friendly audience, I could hear people fidgeting during some scenes. I don't think it was just the serious subject matter to blame. Many scenes just move too slowly for no apparent reason. Modern audiences don't respond to this.
There is also the problem of the somewhat shallow depictions of the central characters. We never really seem to get to know the central couple, and this was meant to be (I assume) a character piece. Maya Stange's changes in attitude and appearance are just too much to believe, and it was difficult to fathom her motivations. Her husband's views on how to conduct his research and his marriage go past blinkered or even prejudiced, they appear just plain foolish.
The islander characters are even more closed off to the audience, with the unscrupulous traders providing the only real (if limited) insight into their islander ways.
The most obvious place to lay the blame for why the film doesn't work is the script. It seems underdeveloped, though I believe there was much work done in the edit suite during post-production, so it's hard to know what the original script looked like.
All the actors seem to give credible performances, and moments where the performances seem less than impressive seem to be the fault of the script, not the actors. But it's so hard to say, looking in from the outside.
All in all a disappointing film from a very talented writer/director. "In A Savage Land" had a short run in Australian theatres, which is all the more upsetting when you realise it was one of the more expensive Australian films made for several years (around ten million dollars according to the director).
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