While The Orator's status as Samoa's first feature film makes it a native landmark, writer/director Tusi Tamasese's deft command of atmospherics, tone, and rhythm transforms it into a genuinely noteworthy achievement. Primarily employing first-time actors to bring this delicately wrought tale to life, Tamasese centers his film on Saili (Fiaula Sagote), a diminutive pariah who lives with his wife Vaaiga and her wilful daughter at the outskirts of a remote jungle village. When Vaaiga's estranged family suddenly demands her return, Saili must settle the dispute through the Samoan tradition of oration.
While frequent silent passages lend The Orator a meditative air, they also offer an opportunity to admire the resplendent cinematography of Leon Narbey (Whale Rider) and the subtlety with which Sagote evinces his character's remarkable transformation. Scene by scene, we witness a sense of self-worth being instilled in Saili, lending him the resilience necessary to fight for what he holds most dear. And when the climactic war of words erupts, we find ourselves hanging on every heartfelt word that leaves his lips.