Leg wound kills is­land’s ‘Brad Pitt’

Vil­lager who had no act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence gave ‘fab­u­lous’ per­for­mance in cel­e­brated movie, writes Nick Perry

The New Zealand Herald - - Entertainment -

Mun­gau Dain had never con­sid­ered act­ing be­fore he starred in the Os­carnom­i­nated film Tanna. He got the role be­cause his el­ders de­cided he was the best-look­ing guy in their tra­di­tional vil­lage in the Pa­cific is­land na­tion of Van­u­atu.

They would later de­scribe him as their an­swer to Brad Pitt.

Dain died on Sat­ur­day in the cap­i­tal Port Vila, after con­tract­ing a leg in­fec­tion that wasn’t quickly treated. He was in his mid-20s.

Martin But­ler, who co-di­rected Tanna, said Dain wasn’t a nat­u­ral ac­tor but was very en­thu­si­as­tic, learned quickly, and ended up giv­ing a fab­u­lous per­for­mance. The 2015 movie, de­pict­ing the story of a cou­ple who de­cided to marry for love, rather than obey their par­ents' wishes, won a num­ber of awards, in­clud­ing two at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val, and was nom­i­nated for an Academy Award for best for­eign lan­guage film.

Dain is sur­vived by his wife, Nancy, and two chil­dren. His vil­lage, Yakel, on Tanna is­land, is in a tra­di­tional two-week mourn­ing pe­riod.

Jimmy Joseph, the cul­tural direc­tor for Tanna is­land, said Dain was quiet, hum­ble and re­spected in Yakel, where he had cho­sen to re­main even after achiev­ing some fame in the movie. He said Dain never drank or smoke.

Peo­ple in the vil­lage typ­i­cally choose to live as they have for cen­turies, in sim­ple thatch huts and wear­ing noth­ing but grass skirts or a pe­nis shield called a nam­bas. They raise crops and pigs, and ob­serve a tra­di­tional way of life known as kas­tom.

But the vil­lage isn’t com­pletely iso­lated from mod­ern life. When vil­lagers make the trek to the is­land’s main town to sell the cof­fee beans they’ve grown or buy rice, they usu­ally wear clothes. Some have cell­phones, which they charge with small so­lar pan­els.

When Aus­tralia-based But­ler and Bent­ley Dean de­cided to make the movie, loosely based on a true story, But­ler said they quickly re­alised the vil­lage el­ders would be do­ing the cast­ing. He said Dain looked too old for the role with his full beard, but 10 min­utes later he’d shaved it off at their re­quest.

But­ler said he and Dean planned to travel to Yakel at the end of the

mourn­ing pe­riod to join the vil­lage in cel­e­brat­ing Dain’s life.

“I was to­tally dev­as­tated. He was so fit and young and gor­geous,” But­ler said. “His wife is fab­u­lous and the kids

are great. He was a great ex­am­ple of how you can live a to­tally dif­fer­ent type of life, and still be com­pletely happy.”

Lo­ca­tion pro­ducer Janita Suter, who lived in Yakel for seven months dur­ing film­ing, said if there was an award for most im­proved ac­tor, it would have to go to Dain. She didn’t think he’d even seen a movie be­fore act­ing in one.

When they trav­elled to Venice for the film fes­ti­val, Suter was in her apart­ment when the chan­de­lier and ceil­ing started shak­ing.

It was Dain and the other vil­lagers in the room above, stomp­ing their feet in a tra­di­tional dance.

“He was a really proud am­bas­sador for his peo­ple,” she said. “It’s a real loss.”

Dain had been stay­ing in Port Vila for a cou­ple of months as he tried to get a tem­po­rary visa to head to Aus­tralia and earn some money pick­ing fruit.

Suter said a doc­tor had ex­plained that Dain got an in­fec­tion in his leg that he didn’t treat and by the time he was taken to the hos­pi­tal he was un­con­scious and likely in sep­tic shock.

But­ler said he hoped there may be some way to get bet­ter in­for­ma­tion to peo­ple in Van­u­atu about the risks of in­fec­tions, and that Dain’s death could act as a cat­a­lyst.

Photo / AP

Mun­gau Dain chose to re­main liv­ing in his tra­di­tional vil­lage of thatched huts even after achiev­ing some movie fame.

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