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For all the stylistic and structural innovations, ultimately the story of unrequited love and obsession leaves me unmoved
on 1 April 2013
`Tabu' is Portugese film-maker Miguel Gomes' third film, at its heart is a story about dreams, love and old age. `Tabu' is set in two parts, one that is current in Lisbon, Portugal and one in the past in Mozambique, Africa.
At the centre of both parts of the film is Aurora (Laura Soveral), an elderly woman living in Lisbon whose neglectful daughter has left her in the care of her African maid, Santa (Isabel Muñoz Cardoso). Self-absorbed and disenchanted with life, Aurora is unfortunate to have her fathers gambling habit and regularly blows her monthly allowance at the casino. Having no money to get home, her neighbour Pilar (Teresa Madruga) and Santa pick her up, Aurora explaining that a dream made her believe she'd get lucky. Ill-health forces her to ask Pilar to find an old flame, Ventura (Henrique Espiríto Santo), and his recollections of their love affair in Mozambique become the film's second part.
As `Tabu' moves into the past, it switches from 35mm to 16mm film, gaining hazier tones to match the fading memories. Many of the supposedly random moments and puzzling events in part one of Aurora's life soon fit into place perfectly as all is soon revealed. The 50 years or so younger and more egotistical Aurora (Ana Moreira) is married to plantation owner (Ivo Müller), she embarks in a doomed romance with the young Ventura (Carloto Cotta). The second part of this film is unusual, only music, the ambient sounds of Africa, and the older Ventura's narration can be heard, never the characters' voices.
Initially `Tabu' is quirky and intriguing, but its playful sense of mystery and ambition becomes annoying the longer the narration carries the film. Gomes' distancing techniques, where the lack of sound forces you to watch the characters interactions, fails to enliven or enhance the story. `Tabu" is a black-and-white film with some charm and innocence, clearly a film evoking the silent era films of the past.
As with all dreams, its meanings are abstract and ambiguous, and `Tabu' is so. You are left to imagine much of the drama, but for all the stylistic and structural innovations, ultimately the central story of unrequited love and obsession leaves me unmoved.