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A safari hunter drifts across the starched heat of the African plains,
stealthily prowling amongst the tall grass, the scorching shimmering
sunlight falls upon the shadows of predatorial lions, hungry hippos and
the gleaming jaws of the crocodile. A vinyl recording of 60s rock 'n'
roll echoing over time through generations suggest a nostalgic
remembrance of a distant land, which later plays a greater significance
in a saga of unrequited love, regret and (literally) life and death.
Initially, Tabu is a love story in disguise, a unfinished love story sprawling over a lifetime of passion, regret, duty and propriety. In it's latter stages it contemplates ideas of memory, unrequited love, ageing, class inequality, prejudice, and European colonialism in African hills and plains.
The first part follows the life of an enigmatic elderly woman in contemporary Portugal - titled Paradise Lost - as she goes about her daily life, we learn snippets about her about her prosaic hobbies, simple pleasures, prejudices, idiosyncrasies, detests, and regrets over a sobering simple lifestyle, a long way from the dream life she idolised. Her simple pleasures have allowed her to gamble away her savings and her estranged family by doing so; in her current state, she had little left except her dedicated maid and carer Pilar who initially acts as the audience's eyes and ears into the portrait of a solitary woman.
What is the intriguing background to this lady's prime of beauty and youth? The modern landscape of metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal is industrial, bleak and sobering, at times sad and efficient, a far world from that which she inhabited in her youth. It is not long until what find out the origins of her melancholy and frustration, and what exactly has been trying to atone for most of her later life.
So begins a tale in colonial Africa, a tale of love and betrayal, rock 'n' roll, diamonds, and an alligator. This second part, subtitled Paradise is almost silent with only diegetic sound imposed during key moments with no title cards as far as I can remember. It is a wonderfully romantic and nostalgic yet with an undercurrent on living the edge of a precipice - the dangerous beasts of the African plains, the wild unfamiliar natives and rugged landscape - there exists a sense of tragedy combined with high passion, regret and wild party impulses.
Whereas part one is melancholic as it is bitter and comic, the second part contrasts the beauty of youth, the blinding African heat and sun, it exposes the storytelling medium the by abandoning almost all dialogue and all but some diegetic sound effects. The compositions and framing are gorgeous, a simple story of unrequited love requiring little explanation and is suggested by moods, looks, and atmosphere and nostalgic memories. The economy in telling a story almost wordlessly, embraces the feelings and mood of silent storytelling placing the onus of eliciting emotion on the charismatic and effortless performances. From the frustrating, fussy and capricious Aurora to the charismatic, carefree, jeunesse Ventura and the supporting jaunty characters, each signify the contrasts in class, social status and the colonial class system soon to collapse under political revolution.
What is essentially an unrequited love story /melodrama is a charismatic and rollicking passionate ride with some crystal sharp compositions in textured black and white. This is an impressive, technically creative, charismatic, heartbreaking, melancholic and nostalgic film; perhaps more daring and arguably less conventional than that other lauded silent film of last year. Tabu is gorgeously unpredictable, surprising and artful.
This is a tough film to discuss in 500 words. It's so multifaceted,
textural and moody. I'll try my hardest, but from the off, I must
suggest that you just experience Tabu for yourself. You may have a
different experience or opinion to me, you may feel the exact same.
Either way, you won't regret it.
Borrowing the name, two-part structure and love affair-plus-colonisation premise from F.W. Murnau's 1931 classic, Miguel Gomes' Tabu is a film of unmistakable vintage. But it's magnificently subversive too. With one foot in the past, one in the future and a head orbiting in it's own artistic universe, it's a little thing of beguiling beauty.
Tabu opens with a tragicomic prologue centring around an exasperated explorer trekking through the harsh jungles of Southern Africa. Through Gomes' voice-over narration, we learn that he is distraught over the death of his wife some years ago, and this lost adventure will be his last. No crocodile tears on display, but there is an ominous little croc that lingers through the sequence - and the rest of the film - with cold, mournful eyes. In a word, stunning.
From here, we begin with the chapter "A LOST PARADISE". In something that resembles a present day Lisbon, we meet our leading lady Aurora (Laura Soveral). A compulsive gambler whose memories are slipping away from her, yet images of hairy monkeys and African farmers still manage to pervade her dreams. Whilst she tries to recall her youth with altruistic next-door-neighbour Pilar (Teresa Madruga) and Santa (Isabel Cardoso), a black woman whom Aurora often woefully calls a housemaid/tyrannous witch, the fatalism of the prologue suggests that Aurora will only be able to relive her glory days in the afterlife.
Cue part 2, "PARADISE". Told through vivid flashbacks and narration from former lover Gian- Luca Venture, we're finally made aware of Aurora's past once lost. Married to a wealthy farmer in the idyllic rural setting of Mozambique, Aurora embarks on a fiery affair with the devilishly handsome nomad Ventura, after her eager pet crocodile crossed the forbidden line into his neighbouring garden. It's a time of lost innocence and furtive whispers, so Gomes decides to strip away all forms of diegetic sound, leaving just the bodies and faces of incredible actors Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta to express this simple, enduring love.
Like Leos Carax's comeback success Holy Motors, Tabu is a film entrenched in film history and scholarly technique (unsurprising considering that they both started out as film critics). But Gomes goes one step further. Filmed in intoxicating black & white by cinematographer Rui Poças, Tabu is beautifully photographed; from the alarmingly stark opening image of a sweaty explorer looking lost in an African jungle, to the final image of a baby crocodile turning away from the camera and crawling out of frame. In an inspired touch, the two halves are filmed in different film stocks the first in familiar 35mm, and the second in exquisitely old-fashioned 16mm. They mingle together to create a film with a perennial quality, existing as a piece of cinematic artifice but with a modern, reflexive twist.
Similarly, the sound construction is unnervingly good. Mixing the deadened silence with ambient sounds, poetic narration and a Portuguese rendition of "Be My Little Baby" (made famous by The Ronettes) the composite sonisphere speaks for the unspoken, tabooed love to exceptionally powerful effect.
Because the film's aesthetic is so dazzling, it's easy to lose track of the whimsical storyline. Based on diary entries and private letters, it has a very nostalgic feel, similar to Chris Marker's Sans Soleil. Just like that film, Tabu isn't a perfect movie, there's pacing issues and Gomes seems to be wrestling with three separate endings. But there's enough moments of unforgettable virtuosity, grace and intellect to make Tabu unmissable.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The title Tabu is one that looms large over film history recalling the
collaboration of two pillars of silent cinema, F.W. Murnau and Robert
J. Flaherty, about a forbidden love story (the film's taboo) between a
fisherman and a holy maid, and splits its story between two clear
sections titled "Paradise" and "Paradise Lost". In Gomes' film, we
begin with a prologue of a Portuguese man's expedition to Mozambique in
search of his lover's soul, ending in him being devoured by alligators
and being reborn as one, before moving to the first section of the
film, titled "Paradise Lost". In it, we follow María, a woman activist
who's neighbour with a senile lady with a gambling addiction by the
name of Aurora, and her African maid Santa. Aurora is poor and raving
madly about her fictitious exploits in Africa and her strange dreams of
being raped by apes, all the while being suspicious of Santa, accusing
her of voodoo witchcraft. Eventually the woman's health declines
rapidly, and as a last wish she asks María to look for a man called
Ventura. María eventually finds Ventura but is unable to bring him to
Aurora before her death. After the funeral, Ventura joins with María
and Santa and begins telling the story of his affair with Aurora
(played by the beautiful Ana Moreira), where he confirms she did
actually live in Mozambique, and where he tells of his forbidden
romance with her while she was pregnant of her husband's baby. Here we
begin the section titled "Paradise", detailing the story of their
affair and of their Portuguese social circle, back when Mozabique was
still a colony, which makes up the larger bulk of the film.
One of the aspects that surprises outright is just how brilliantly Gomes manages to capture this story from an aesthetic point of view. Visually the film is of course emulating an older style of filmmaking, right down to the choice of working in an academic ratio (1.37:1), but his visual style is perhaps less reminiscent of Murnau's, and rather seems to emulate 50s Kenji Mizoguchi and early Satyajit Ray. There is that same remarkably organic, unimposing and ever so elegant kind of black and white photography which is harder and harder to find today (even the first half which is filmed in contemporary Lisbon), all the while the film works with a very limited array of sounds and music providing a background for a story told otherwise entirely through the voice-over of Ventura.
The voice-over eventually leads to many labyrinthine stories regarding the lives of many people he met in Mozambique, not least the members of his own rock n' roll band, specifically Mario to whom Ventura was a sort of right hand man. The stories are all vivid and told with great detail and humour, but essentially they are a smokescreen to what's otherwise a very simple tragedy of forbidden love, beautifully told. In many ways, even through these many decade-spanning branches, the film's narrative closely resembles the works of Gabriel García Márquez. The love story at the heart of it is one forbidden due in large part to the social aspect, that Aurora is a pregnant, married woman, but all throughout the film there's another side suggesting the nature of this affair's forbiddance is also of a divine kind - it is, precisely, taboo. There are many elements of magical realism at play, from the cryptic opening tale to the encounters with witch-doctors and seers, the latter foreboding the tragic end to the affair. Even the location, set around a fictional Mount Tabu, and the attitude adopted by Dandy, Aurora's pet alligator, seem to plot to make their fates meet. There is a strong mystical power at play, one that, like many of Márquez's most classic works, seems to exist as an unholy hybrid between local and European beliefs product of colonization.
Evidently, this affair is doomed from the start. The inversion of the original Tabu titles, leading to an almost sardonic remark over the latter section, allows us to see and know these characters' fate before we see their relationship progress, and thus the development of their relationship is all the more arduous and cathartic.
In the Q&A with Miguel Gomes, he mentioned that he had no ulterior motives to tell this story, no overlapping ideas as he does not consider himself to be a smart man and therefore does not consider his ideas "worthy" enough to sustain a film (perhaps in admitting that he's smarter than a vast majority of the filmmakers in the BAFICI), but instead he concentrates on catching glimpses, moments and developing a story out of them. Effectively this is not a film of big ideas and enlightenment, roughly the overarching themes could be related to adultery and natural law with hints of a cultural clash and the likes, but it's never really about that. It's about creating a story that's affecting like no other, and that he's managed to create. With this, Gomes becomes a cinematic force to be reckoned with, and one I'll be following very closely from now on.
I watched Tabu knowing very little about it and found the film a real
treat to watch, but however I will try to avoid giving too much away as
this is one of those films that are best to watch not knowing too much.
The whole viewing experience is very rewarding, not just emotionally,
but also in that your required patience is amply rewarded. Though the
entire film is shot in black and white, the two different stories are
told in differing stylistic ways, making Tabu a very fitting tribute to
The first half, firstly being set in the present day, has almost a surrealist feel to it, with some apparently random moments and new characters being introduced suddenly. This does require your attention and anyone could be forgiven for wondering where the hell the film is going. However, as the first half reaches its inevitable conclusion and we enter the second half, this is where Tabu becomes an engaging and emotionally rewarding film. Many of the supposedly random moments of the first half now fit in perfectly as we are revealed what happened when Aurora was a young woman living in Africa.
The second half is a rather simple story of an illicit love affair that could never be but is told in an emotionally powerful way, enhanced by the framed narrative structure and deeply mournful narration of who we discover to be the man she loved. The power of the voice over is enhanced by the completely different stylistic approach of the second half, the only dialogue throughout is the voice over of Aurora's lover and the whole second half is shot in 16mm. The poignant reflections of the narrator can easily be interpreted as also being the director's and perhaps us the viewer's feelings towards silent era cinema of a bygone age. This stylistic approach is very much purposeful, all other diagetic sounds can be heard, and the characters are physically talking to each other. The emotional power is only enhanced by the fact all we can hear is the non-diagetic narration and having to otherwise rely on expressions and body language of the characters. Part two feels like a two sided approach to love of the past; a past loved one and a love of cinema of the past.
Despite the main subject of the story at hand, Tabu is not a completely bleak film, the playful use of different cinematic techniques and music are a joy to watch and the catharsis of the ending leaves a feeling of poignancy but not abject misery. There are however elements to Tabu that may frustrate. It feels that the protagonist of part one is Pilar, Aurora's neighbour and her story does feel frustratingly unfinished as we see elements of her daily life that make us truly care about her as these moments have literally nothing to do with Aurora. However, this is the story of Aurora through the eyes of those around her and in that case the stylistic approach of part one in retrospect fits with that of part two. The surrealist and playful approach to narrative structure in part one may seem pretentious and potentially alienating to some, but after watching the entire film I could only look back at it with positive feelings.
Original and unique, Tabu is a thoroughly engrossing and emotionally rewarding story that serves not only as a tribute to human love, but also love of the history of cinema. The first thirty minutes or so may feel hard work at first, but what the remainder of the film has to offer more than amply rewards the viewer's patience.
A KVIFF viewing, the third feature-length work from Portuguese director
Miguel Gomes, which was among the contenders for the Golden Bear in
Berlin earlier this year, and wound up winning the FIPRESCI Prize and
Alfred Bauer Award.
The film is entirely in Black & White, which has a deceiving anachronism effect and injects an appeasing vigor to enliven the storyline. With being equally divided into two parts, the first half is the contemporary story between a middle-aged woman, Pillar and her senior neighbor Aurora (who is live alone with her black servant Santa, and strongly believes her estranged daughter and Santa are plotting against her); the second half is completely B&W silent, with an elaborate voice-over from Aurora's former lover Ventura, revealing a secret history about he and Aurora's love affair back in Africa half an century ago. It is a distinctively interesting composition, which contributes a pleasant illusion that we were watching a double-feature.
But by comparison, the first part is more austere and compelling while the second part is basically about a superfluously hackneyed liaison between a married woman and a romantic womanizer, the only worthiness is that it is between two white people in Africa, and if one intends to get some in-depth probe about the continent and its people, the film could hardly suffices this curiosity.
Between the female correlation in the first part, Pilar has a manifest momentum to propel the storyline, and ruefully there will not be a third paragraph to recount her story out of the lightly over-hyped second part, her story behind might own more worth to be revisited and explored. Teresa Madruga and Laura Soveral are spellbinding during their screen time, if only the second half could be reinterpreted in another way, the film could have been a fabulous essay about love, aging and mystery behind everyone's usual representation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes I think critics include a movie on their top 10 lists simply
because it's the last one they remember seeing. That might be the case
with "Tabu," which showed up on more than one list, but isn't nearly as
interesting a film as it pretends to be, or as the critics who rave
about it seem to think it is.
"Tabu" is full of auteur tricks and cinephile homages. It borrows its name from an obscure FW Murnau silent, it's filmed in black and white and utilizes two different film speeds, and the entire second half has no dialog, only voice-over. But underneath all those tricks is a surprising conventional film. Well, more precisely, two films.
After a brief interlude involving an intrepid explorer, a ghost and a crocodile, Part 1 begins, which is titled "Lost Paradise." It's about three women living in present-day Lisbon -- Pilar, her neighbor Aurora, and Aurora's African caretaker, Santa. Aurora is wildly dramatic, and probably senile. She sneaks away from Santa to gamble away any money she comes across. She corners Pilar one day and shares her fears that Santa is a servant of the devil who has imprisoned her and cast a curse upon them all. Of course the truth is much less dramatic, but Pilar still feels obligated to try and do something for her aging neighbor. And when her health takes a turn for the worse and Aurora asks her only friend to track down a man she once knew, of course Pilar obliges her.
The man's name is Ventura, and he's not very hard to track down. The second half of the film, titled "Paradise," is his recounting of his relationship with Aurora; the entire thing is narrated by him but acted out like something from "Unsolved Mysteries" -- the actors on the screen speak but we never hear their words, only ambient sounds around them. It is an interesting way to portray a memory, to keep us aware that this isn't happening, it's being remembered. But really - an hour of flashback? The contrivance grows old fast, and we never transition out of it into more immediate and direct storytelling.
The memory takes place in Mozambique, back when it was a Portuguese colony. Aurora is the beautiful bored wife of a rich merchant, and Ventura is a rake and a roustabout. He looks an awful lot like pirate Johnny Depp in "Chocolat." Of course this is the kind of guy you should never trust around your women, but Aurora's husband is out of town quite a bit, and there's the matter of a constantly escaping pet crocodile. Pretty soon they are in bed (Aurora and Ventura, not the crocodile) and not long after that they are in love. But she is pregnant, and the baby is her husband's, not her lover's. This is a love story that can only end in tragedy. (Which, of course, we already knew, because this is all being tragically remembered, mind you.)
So essentially, we have two movies -- the two parts are too stylistically different to be considered anything else. The first half is a quiet, borderline boring Euroflick about aging and loneliness. It has a vaguely Almodovarian feel, though there are no transvestites or ghosts, only a cadre of middle-aged women. The second half is more classical, and also more formulaic, reminiscent of sweeping, exotic romances from the golden age of Hollywood without ever approaching that kind of grandeur. (Indeed, it uses pretense to steer clear of that kind of grandeur and emotional intensity. Of it was as overheated and melodramatic as the movies it's emulating, it would probably be unbearably campy.) Both halves are decently made short films -- probably better than average, but I think for "Tabu" to really work, the two halves need to connect on a deeper level than the plot. And that never materializes. I want the two halves to comment on each other, to enrich each other in some way, but it's just not there. So really, all it amounts to is, "hey, you know that crazy old lady next door? She's got a quite a story, set in Africa, about infidelity and murder and crocodiles. Imagine that!"
"In all my films there is an urge for fiction," Mr. Gomes said in an interview with Slate. "There is a first part that begs for another film to appear, and it does because of our common desire." I'd say he's accomplished about half of that goal, twice over. While watching "Tabu," I kept waiting for another film to appear, a more interesting, more subtle and complex, more deeply layered film. But it never does. So I guess I'll move on to the next thing, and keep looking.
Tabu is exactly the type of poetic old-fashioned film I adore. It's a
simple story told very unconventionally, with the long slow death of a
character in the first half (entitled "Paradise Lost") and then the
best years of her life in the second ("Paradise") to the point of where
the aforementioned Paradise came to an end. The aesthetics of the film
are the real highlight here and truly capture the essence of the story
in a unique way. The lush texture in the rich black and white
photography are a delight to watch, and recall the effects Jim
Jarmusch's Dead Man's cinematography had with the ethereal, sometimes
tragic and sometimes comic atmosphere it created. The timeless
cinematography is also reminiscent of the 1920s studio films with
manufactured exterior shots and the use of a traditional 1.37:1 ratio.
There's a fascinating use of sound too, with the second half being
dialogue-less, despite watching characters talk, and featuring only
atmosphere sounds of the jungle. There's also a great use of a Ronettes
song that I love ostensibly translated into Portuguese. Tabu is a
majestic film that had a profound effect on me. It's an interesting
take on the long term consequence of a 'taboo' (in this case,
adultery). One of the best of the year.
Memories of the past do not always tell us about people and events as
they actually were, but often are a mixture of truth and illusion.
Portuguese director Miguel Gomes' third feature Tabu takes us on a
nostalgic journey that begins in the modern city of today's Lisbon and
travels to colonial Africa fifty years ago to attempt to recapture in
memory the paradise that was lost. Shot in black and white by
cinematographer Rui Poças and using 16mm film rather than color to
establish a time differential, the film reminds us of the romantic
movies Hollywood used to make in the 1930s and owes a debt to F.W.
Murnau, whose title was borrowed from his 1931 South Seas adventure.
Divided into two parts, Tabu's first section depicts an elderly woman, a dreamer beset by remorse and regret, who is fast losing her grip on reality. The second is the story of an obsessive love set in the shadows of a fictional Mount Tabu in Africa. It is a moving story of love and loss, silent except for a voice-over narration, the ambient sounds of nature, and the music of Phil Spector and others from the sixties. The film begins with an enigmatic prologue in which an explorer, distraught over the death of his wife, decides to end his life by swimming with the crocodiles, an allegorical reptile used as a recurring motif throughout the film. The scene then shifts to Lisbon where Aurora (Laura Soveral), an elderly victim of an unknown troubled past, is now close to the end of her days.
She lives with Santa (Isabel Muñoz Cardoso), her maid from Cape Verde who fills her own days by reading Robinson Crusoe at the local book club. Though Santa caters to her every need, Aurora is convinced that she is a sorceress who is putting a spell on her. Having lost her money at the casinos, Aurora looks to her estranged daughter living in Canada and her neighbor, Pilar ((Teresa Madruga), a staunch Catholic and social activist for financial help but little is forthcoming. When Aurora is taken to the hospital, she talks about the only time she truly felt loved, the time when she met a playboy and adventurer on her husband's colonial estate back in the sixties.
Aurora asks Pilar to find her friend, Gian Luca (Henrique Espírito Santo) and have him come to her one last time, but she dies before he is found in a nursing home. Using material from diaries and private letters to establish its credibility, Ventura tells his story to Pilar and Santa over a cup of coffee. It is a personal engaging and deeply felt and is related with poetic insight, told from his point of view. Shifting back fifty years, we see a young Aurora (Ana Moreira), an heiress who has inherited a farm from her father. Surrounded by doting black servants, she is married to a wealthy merchant (Ivo Muller) and pregnant with his child, but her life will change forever when she meets Gian Luca Ventura (Carloto Cotta), a member of her husband's friend Mario's (Manuel Mesquita) rock band and begins a stormy, furtive love affair that will begin and end many times but in the emotions it engenders, it will last a lifetime.
Their story is dramatized in the context of a native rebellion, the beginning of the decolonization process that began in 1961 and continued for more than ten years. Though Gomes glosses over these events and shunts them to the background, the film's depiction of the white adventurers tells us all we need to know about the colonial mentality. At its core, however, Tabu is not a film about history or even about big ideas but an old-fashioned love story that, while perhaps never quite penetrating below the surface of its characters, captivates with its mood, physical beauty, and sense of dream-like mystery. It is a wistful and haunting film about the day when all that is left are memories, dreams, and an overriding longing for an imagined paradise. To Gian Carlo, as to all, in Proust's words, "It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for."
A retired, religious woman Pilar (Teresa Madruga) endeavours to assist
her sensitive, enigmatic and fidgety neighbour Aurora (Laura Soveral)
whose both psychological and physical health is growing gradually worse
and worse. Once Aurora dies, Pilar and Aurora's maid set off in search
for a certain man named Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo) who appears
to be a bond between the presence and Aurora's shady past
This unorthodox tribute to silent cinema and F. W. Murnau's Tabu from 1931 is atypical even by art-house standards and despite being relatively flawed, it succeeds in overcoming its foibles by its sheer eccentricity and stunning cinematography. The movie is initiated with an outlandish prologue recounting a separate story about a suicide of an explorer devoid of hope for a better future which is entailed by his wife's demise. This prelude constitutes the introduction to this black-and-white motion picture whose general theme is about incapability of leading life without love. The flick proceeds to the first part called Paradise Lost which is about superstitious Aurora's struggles with her paranoid temperament and loneliness on account of being stranded by her ungrateful daughter. At this point, mise-en-scène by Gomes is invariably baffling. This is the weakest part of the film which is extortionately digressive and, apart from the main subject tackled in the ensemble, inauspiciously attempts to encompass such issues as metaphysic, depression of senile citizens in the modern society, passion for cinema as well as faith. As a consequence, it is not much of anything and by briefly alluding to these matters, the atypical drama leaves us with a sense of insufficiency, superficiality and instead of plunging into the major topic, it virtually mummifies the entire concept. Nevertheless, the scatter-brained aspect does not perplex that much and the instant the plot drags, the auxiliary visuals come in handy and prevent the material from becoming lifeless.
Once Tabu transmutes into a strand of flashbacks derived from Ventura's memory (a part called Paradise), it embarks on being uncannily engrossing and bounteously asserts its aesthetic beauteousness by exposing landscapes of Portugal colonies with its eye-pleasing black-and-white photography. Narrated with an assistance of Ventura's voice-over, the pic acquires an exceptionally poetic and contemplative relish and genuinely resembles a piece of silent cinema. This is likewise the moment in which one might discern the evident sway of aforementioned Murnau's opus and the parallels between both works are decidedly far from coincidental. It is not that Gomes endeavours to counterfeit Murnau's classic, but the afterthought conveyed from the perspective of colonisers and not a native collective is analogous by commenting on the inability to fulfil one's love owing to social convenances. The creation of Gomes reverberates some relations from Portuguese Colonial War, but Gomes seems to be uninterested in delving in this phenomenon and prefers to frame waterfalls and majestically picturesque plantations. Notwithstanding, the glossy, sumptuous appearance does not conceal the fact that Tabu is rather a pure stylistic exercise than a very prosperous psychological or political depiction of occurrences transpiring on the screen and the narrator just roughly indicates a development regarding his relationship with Aurora in his psyche. It is the extravagant stylisation and the offbeat, non-linear composition which renders the décor appealing and the entire movie jolly palatable.
The acting is very dexterous throughout the utter film. Teresa Madruga is plausible as a middle-aged prude who craves to console Aurora who is also well played by Laura Soveral. The remainder of the cast is highly enjoyable as well, but there were instants in which some performers felt slightly stiff and somewhat somnolent. Cinematography by Rui Poças is exceedingly ravishing and its tranquil nature captivates the audience from the onset to the very end and its sweetness and subtle charm works symbiotically with some delicate piano riffs which embellish and endow Tabu with several exultations.
Whilst the flick is acclaimed and highly rated by majority of film critics, I am inclined to believe that this abundant, structurally unusual motion picture serves its purpose and delivers a great deal of fabulous shots, but I am far from stating that it is a flawless, timeless and sublime trove. Indubitably, there are some ingenious aesthetic touches, but what Tabu lacked for me was the textural integrity, insightfulness as well as some concretism.
This is pretty astounding stuff. How apt and special, that so soon
after the untimely passing of Raoul Ruiz, another director in the
Hispanic world (that includes Portugal and the colonies) announces
himself as a bright new voice with this great work? And in the same
vein of multilateral realities blurring memory with storytelling as
Ruiz. It's almost perfectly metaphysical, and in line with the
phenomenon of recent interesting Hispanic filmmakers. Medem, Martel,
and now this guy.
Before we get to that, I'd like to say about this that it achieves by far one of the most important aspects in a filmit takes place in a profoundly characteristic world of its own, I expect I will be haunted for months by its sultry, languorous Africa. The atmosphere is one of mysterious beauty, waiting and sexual lassitude. The film has textures, smells. The sound work is perfectly sculpted. The camera is sometimes in Antonioni's turf of spatial meditation, sometimes in Herzog's found ecstasy, sometimes in Chris Marker's visual letters from memory.
So the fabric of the film is exceptional, that alone would be enough to earn an enthusiastic recommendation from me, but that is the basis for some pretty cool narrative threads, all pointing to storytelling as maps to the life behind the fabric of illusions.
The typical reading of the film is that split in two segments, 'Lost Paradise' and 'Paradise', we have an emotionally shattered old woman, and her backstory of much erotic exploration and tragic heartbreak in faraway Mozambique that explains who she was.
It is more interesting than that. The second part which is by far the most captivating, is a story an old friend tells of her, and as he tells it, he tells a million other stories, about friends, rock'n'roll frolicking, crocodiles as passion, boxing invisible enemies, jungle monsters and anticolonial revolution. As he tells it, some of the puzzling obsessions of the delusional old woman we've known begin to make sense, her worry for a loose crocodile, apprehension of witchcraft and impassioned plea of having blood on her hands. Her ravings had basis after all, it matters that they are illusory images transmuted from actual events.
Now if you go back to the first segment, you will see that a recurring notion is how something may be imagined-imaginary, but the images can perturb or affect realitysee this in the old woman's dream of gambling that propels her to gamble the next day, in the catacomb imagined to be Roman, in the co-worker's talk of mass susceptibility.
Isn't this why cinema can work at all? Love?
The framing device is a film that Pilar is watching in the cinema, the film is about an 'intrepid and melancholic explorer' in the African savanna who is haunted by visions of his dead wife. They all are intrepid explorers of course, bringing images to life, as are we venturing in the shared journey of exploring the old woman.
This device comes first in the film, but it could be taking place at any time. Pilar is the main character of the first segment, but we know close to nothing of her, except that she is melancholic, lonely and wants to be of helpwe learn she is an activist, she arranges for a Polish girl to stay with her but the girl never shows up. To emphasize her solitude, it's the New Year's Eve in Lisbon which she spends crying in a theater.
And she is staying next to an old woman (she is not getting younger herself), who is losing it and near the end, 'dying'. So who is imagining from the old woman's ravings a life of excitement and escape into scorching faraway heat?
Martel has even more submerged narrative in this mode. But this is too good to passthis guy shows mastery in creating a cinematic aura and he gets how a story can be about blowing glass into the air of story to give us reflective shapes about the urges.
(if readers can help with contact info for the filmmaker let me know)
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