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In his final film, F.W. Murnau presents the tale of two young lovers on the idyllic island of Bora Bora in the South Pacific. Their life is shattered when the old warrior declares the girl to be the Chosen Maid and it is forbidden for any man to even look upon her. Refusing to accept a life apart, they run off to another island, one that is decadent and westernized. The boy works as a pearl diver but not quite understanding the concept of money, is soon in debt. When the old warrior tracks them down they again plan to run away but in a desperate attempt to pay off his debts, the boy dives for pearls in shark-infested waters. The boy is successful but fate seems determined to keep the two lovers apart. Written by
[writing a goodbye letter]
I must go. Hitu is here and waits for me. You will die if I do not obey. I will go so that you may live. The tabu is upon us. I have been so happy with you far more than I deserved. The love you have given me, I will keep to the last beat of my heart. Across the great waters, I will come to you in your dreams when the moon spreads its path on the sea. Farewell.
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There has never been another film like "Tabu". This is a unique blending of ethnographic documentary and expressionist drama, from two directors who were masters of these forms.
The actors are real Polynesians and their ceremonies and rituals are faithfully captured, and interwoven with a tragic love story. The cinematography deservedly won an Oscar - it is truly beautiful. Murnau, away from his usual studio sets, manages to create the same sense of danger using natural light - especially moonlight - and real locations.
The performances are very strong - especially Chevalier as the girl, and the old man is as scary as Nosferatu as he haunts her dreams at night.
Sadly this was Murnau's last film - he died in a car crash just before the premiere. It is a little dramatically uneven, and certainly not the masterpiece that "Sunrise" is, but it is still very worthwhile.
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