Film Review: Broken Promise

Samoan Language Film: "Tautoga Gausia - Broken Promise"

My friends have been talking about the first Samoan language film, “Tautoga Gausia – Broken Promise” for quite some time now and I’ve resisted posting anything on or about the film because I’ve had trouble staying on task enough to collect ALL of my thoughts on the movie into one post.

Maybe its because I’ve read and heard so much in person and online from peers who are either for or against the film (mostly for) that I’ve relied solely on the opinions expressed by others and its clouded my own vision to form a valuable, impartial verdict on the movie. Or maybe its just the fact that being Samoan and having lived in Samoa for a time, I understand and I have seen first hand, the anger, resentment and frustration shared by both parents and their children when it comes to dealing with a family crisis.

The film centers around the courtship of “Sam” and “Teuila“, two adults who find each other by chance and fall madly in love. They are both successful people leading unassuming lives and appear to have a lot in common, except for the fact that they are from two different religious backgrounds. Though this may be a minor, almost trivial matter in terms of Western societal norms, in Samoa, where religion plays a distinct and integral role in familial and communal life. Marrying outside of the religion chosen by an extended family, particularly if that family has been raised in that religion for decades, still causes parental angst and rifts amongst family members today.

Adding to the the primary themes of the movie (love, death, suicide, religion, courtship, etc) there are so many other underlying topics that are implied throughout the movie that I found it hard to focus at times. The movie itself did not add to my confusion. It was my own pre-formed notions that led to the distractions. Without experience, it is hard to truly understand the people and the complex, troublesome, often violent interactions shared by parents who cannot relinquish their hold on their adult children, and conversely their children, who walk the tightrope between loyalty to their family and the desire to feel and love another person.
The cinematography is rudimentary, but in its simplicity the film actually takes on the feeling of a ‘live’ experience for the viewer. Think Survivor meets Jersey Shore, with a little less manipulation, no hairspray, no promiscuity and definitely devoid of a Snookie-esque type character to make you feel squeamish while you’re gobbling down popcorn and Junior Mints.

Though at times the dialogue falls short of conveyinga message, is sporadic and at times sputters to a complete standstill, the camera’s point of view is positioned in such a way so that the viewer becomes party to the interactions between characters by registering their reactions. It allows us to time interpret and draw plausible conclusions of our own.

I felt like a voyeur, encroaching on the developing love between Sam and Teuila. And when the camera cut to scenes shared by either of the couples parents, I couldn’t help but feel like I needed to inject my own thoughts and emotions into the fray.

Sam’s father, “Filemogi” is the antagonist and the actor plays the part well. He’s so believeable that after the first few scenes, his controlling intensity has a pronounced affect on the rest of the players. He has some classic lines that when translated into English do not carry the same affect as when he speaks the lines in his native tongue.

It is the Samoan colloquialisms and the passionate expressionism that really hit home for me as it pertains to the relationships around the central characters. I firmly believe that had this been a film by Fijians, Tongans, Maori or any other Polynesian group that the same raw emotions would have been evident and just as convincing. Whether it was Sam’s and Teuila’s ability to portray in words (Sam has a classic and very descriptive line about feeling goose bumps when Teuila calls and she in turn responds in kind), to Filemogi’s unbridled rage, these actors easily capture the emotions and by doing so, bewitch their audience.

I wish the film was available with subtitles, but I have to be honest, the movie would just be unoriginal, stereotypical and down-right horrible with subtitles; another hack of Romeo and Juliet. But it is the Pacific Islander experience, the intrinsic beauty of the language and the elaboration of uncurbed and uninformed passion that make this film unique and unforgettable.

I give this film 5 Coconuts.

Watch the trailer:

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