The Land Will Eat You

By Darcy Tuppen | Drama
An indigenous man helps a developer buy his people's land -- but at a cost.

Kalsong, a well-meaning, helpful local father and community leader, tries to help out an amiable, ambitious Australian real estate developer looking to kickstart the momentum on a hotel resort project.

But as Kalsong gets more involved in the project, and tries to get his friends to sell their private land to improve access to the secluded resort, he finds himself at the center of a much larger struggle over the soul of the land itself and the future of his people.

Set in remote coastal Vanuatu near Australia, this perceptive drama — written and directed by Darcy Tuppen — offers a window into modern-day Melanesia and its peoples’ relationship to its powerful Australian neighbor, as told through the story of two men working together to develop raw land into property — and then property into profit.

Stunning cinematography and beautiful images play a key role in the film’s resonance and power. As befitting a story about the emerging conflict over land rights, ownership and access, the focus on the setting’s raw natural beauty — and the contrasting humble homes of the indigenous people themselves — allow us to marvel at this pristine corner of the world, with its unique, stunning trees and waters. These images of the natural world hold an almost spiritual power within the film’s visual landscape and help viewers understand what’s at stake in more practical and material terms as well.

But the story’s real power comes from yoking the sometimes abstract topic of land rights into the emotional journey of its central character. Kalsong believes that he is doing his people and his family good by getting Dan his sale. But once he talks more to his elders — and understands the almost Faustian complexity of the deal he just struck with Dan — he realizes just what he has lost, not just for himself, but for his family and people.

For many, the unspoken pleasure of art and storytelling of any kind is its ability to take people on a journey. As simple as this is, “The Land Will Eat You” fulfills beautifully this primal directive, taking viewers to a part of the world that rarely finds itself represented in film.

But it is also a rare story that takes a sometimes complicated sociopolitical topic and breaks it down to its most elemental stakes. The remote community of the Ni-Vanuatu people has been close to their land for almost all of their history. Yet as the imperatives of profit creep into this enclave, greed and speculation will also force a confrontation between individualism and community — a competition that may seem deeply familiar, even on the other side of the world.

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