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It succeeds in overcoming its foibles by its sheer eccentricity and stunning cinematography
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.
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