The Tulafale (The Orator): A Critical Review - Part II

II.  CONVOLUTED SOPHISTICATION (O Samoa o le fue lavelave.)

Tulafale’s storyline is simple but the plot is somewhat convoluted albeit in a sophisticated way, at least to the initiated viewer.

Some versions of the synopsis claim that Saili's main quest is to get his dead wife back from her family and buried near his home. Structurally, it is not, it's to get his parents bodies disinterred and buried near his home and not in the bushes. He is successful in both efforts, however. Vaaiga's story is therefore a subplot, and yet it dominates and drives the movie. In the end the first becomes the last and last becomes the first - Vaaiga is buried closer to the house than Saili’s parents.

The backstory of Saili’s parents, told mostly through dialog and other allusions, has its share in the convolution. Incidentally, with the parents' disinterment as the main pursuit of the protagonist, the opening would have been more effective and contributive to the overall storyline had the shots and scenes been of the implied turmoil and controversy surrounding the parents' deaths and burial, instead of the more abstract natural landscape shots.

The ifoga (traditional apology) is equivocal, if not ambiguous and agonizingly convoluted. The apology on the surface is instigated by the rugby players' rock/stone attack on Saili who is left to die from his wounds. But on  another level the ifoga is for Litia, who is impregnated by Sio the leader of Saili’s attackers.

Ultimately however, the “buck” stops with Vaaiga who, in all likelihood, feels responsible for the course of events leading up to the ifoga. Her illegitimate child, Litia, has an affair with a married man, Sio. Saili, in Litia’s defense, harasses Sio at the rugby field, which leads to the rock fight where Saili is seriously injured.

The above premise is supported by the events at the time of Vaaiga’s death.  More than mere coincidence, Vaaiga is dying while the ifoga is in progress, but just before she dies, she tells Litia - not Saili - to go and accept the ifoga, pardoning Sio on his double - make that triple - offense, on all three, Saili, Litia and Vaaiga. Although Litia ostensibly declines her mother’s request, she seems to believe in her own role and culpability in the whole predicament. With Vaaiga issuing the permission to accept the ifoga, it also suggests the plausibility that the ifoga is, and can be, for her own death and demise. Though she seems bothered and preoccupied with her scandalous past during the course of the movie, Vaaiga is still physically strong and healthy. Her poignant condition, however, takes a dramatic turn for the worst after Litia admits to being pregnant, thus making Sio partly responsible for Vaaiga’s untimely death too.

To Vaaiga, Litia’s confession is deja vu and perhaps her (Vaaiga’s) moment of truth. She is again reminded of her own life and past mistakes through Litia, and therefore sees her (Vaaiga’s) misery as further punishment.  In this whole convolution, Sio remains the principal perpetrator who is also the main penitent in the ifoga which, untraditionally, is prompted by a rock fight. Real traditional ifoga, especially as depicted in the movie, are made only in extreme cases involving death and adultery and rarely, if ever, in rock fights and other trivial conflicts, let alone in cases where a commoner/untitled man or outcast is the victim. Therefore, based on the character of the ifoga, I would argue that it is not necessarily for Saili’s mishaps, as portrayed, but more for Litia’s pregnancy and Vaaiga’s death.  All of this makes the ifoga multifaceted and intricately convoluted.

Ironically, Vaaiga receives her own pardon and absolution during her final moments through deathbed repentance, and validated by the symbolic embedded shot of Christ’s passion.

And then there’s the incestuous insinuation and convolution. (Huh? What incest?)  Moreover, the reason(s) for Vaaiga’s banishment is(are) still hidden and/or vague.  Are the two linked?  You’ll be the judge.

Yes, the proverbial fue lavelave (matted swisher) gets more coiled and tangled the deeper you dig into the movie. Notwithstanding, convolution should lead to absolution, not confusion.


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