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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
Originally conceived as a co-venture with documentarian Robert J. Flaherty. As work on the project progressed, it became increasingly clear to Flaherty that F.W. Murnau did not adapt well to co-directing and that he was being squeezed off the film. A factor helping Murnau in this was that he was one of the film's chief financiers. See more »
[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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A teenage island native, played by a young man named Matahi, and his love interest, Reri (Anne Chevalier), live happily in a South Seas paradise, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, waterfalls, and majestic mountains. He's a pearl fisherman. She's an unattached young beauty. Their lives are simple and reasonably carefree. A spirit of innocence prevails. But even amid such beautiful simplicity and natural wonders, sinister elements lurk in the background. And that's the film's main theme.
The story is simple and direct. It's both a love story and a visual documentary that will appeal to Westerners accustomed to a more tech lifestyle. Parts of the narrative are conveyed by means of the writings in a ship captain's log. The writing is displayed on the screen, for viewers to read. The film's tone varies from light and cheerful at the beginning to more somber as the plot moves along.
Shot in Tahiti and Bora Bora, the film has a cast made up entirely of non-professionals. The B&W lighting is good, given the early era.
The film is one of the last of the silent period. And I'm therefore reluctant to find fault with it. The native Pacific music is really beautiful, what there is of it. I could have wished for a lot more. By contrast, the imported symphonic score is loud, nondescript, and intrusive. I guess that would be the one thing I would have changed.
Even for viewers who don't care for silent films, "Tabu: A Story Of The South Seas" might be appreciated for its documentary style visuals. For viewers familiar with silent cinema, this is a must-watch film, Director F.W. Murnau's last.
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