"You may run as far as you can for as long as you like, but you will not escape your heart"
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.
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