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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
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1994. 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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In one island of Bora Bora lagoon, a young fisherman, Matahi, is in love with Reri. But she is chosen to be the holy maid and therefore becomes "tabu". They ran away from that tradition. Will they be happier and luckier in the more "civilized" society?
Sadly, this was to be F. W. Murnau's last film. Despite a short life, he made many great films (including this one)... and then came a car accident that left us without another three or four decades of genius.
On the bright side, cinematographer Floyd Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on this film. Crosby went on to work for a great many years, bringing out the best in such directors as Roger Corman. In "Tabu", he uses the camera to tell a story without words -- body language and eye movement tell us almost everything we need to follow the plot.
The film was not a box office success upon release, grossing just $472,000 worldwide, which failed to recoup Murnau and Paramount's investment. This seems odd today, when it is considered a classic, but there is no secret that critically successful films and commercially successful films are not always the same thing.
The Image DVD features commentary by film historian Janet Bergstrom, which is quite excellent. Other editions feature other commentary, but I have not heard it and cannot compare.
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