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Slow, Subtle, Moving, Original,
This review is from: Tabu [DVD] (DVD)
This 2012 film by Portuguese film-maker Miguel Gomes is a subtle, poetic, but (structurally) highly ambitious film which is (for me) largely successful. At its heart, Tabu is essentially a story of love and betrayal between two main characters, Aurora and Gianluca, but told over a 50 (or so) year time period - the first half of Gomes' film being set in modern day Lisbon, and the second half (shot in 'silent film mode' and related in flashback, with a voiceover from 'modern day' Gianluca) set decades earlier in Portuguese-colonial Africa. However, Gomes' rather oblique approach to narrative, which actually makes the film more impressive on repeat viewings, also brings out (subtle) themes of memory, longing, dreams, time passing, spirituality, mystical connections and, of course, colonialism (albeit, this is only 'dealt with' superficially).
Gomes has split his film in two sections - entitled Paradise Lost (modern-day) and Paradise (the earlier period), to reflect the pervading feelings from the two eras. For me at least, the film's first section suffered rather by virtue of the fact that the underlying reasons for the now elderly and frail Aurora's predicament of increasing paranoia (caused largely by the presence of her African maid, Santa) and frequent dreaming, are only (eventually) explained by the film's second section (hence why on second viewing I was more engaged). Having said this, Teresa Madruga's portrayal of Aurora's considerate neighbour (and activist in post-colonial reconciliation), the distraught Pilar, is particularly powerful (albeit rather tangential to the film's main narrative) and Laura Soveral as Aurora is also impressive. The Paradise section is much of a contrast, with what is essentially a straight love story between the young Gianluca (Carloto Cotta) and the increasingly conflicted (i.e. already married) Aurora (an impressively vivacious Ana Moreira), but with the African landscapes and local population captured in evocative black-and-white by cinematographer Rui Pocas, with a gruff voiceover from Gianluca (50 years on) lending added emotional intensity to the proceedings.
Indeed, Gomes' film is never less than impressive visually, particularly during second half, during which Aurora's 'adopted pet' (juvenile) crocodile, Dandy, is captured in some mesmerising close-ups. There are also a number of 'off the wall' moments, largely centred around Gianluca and friend, Mario's, membership of a local white tuxedo-bedecked crooning band, and a particularly memorable rendition of The Ramones' version of The Ronettes' song, Baby I Love You, with Mario lip-syncing to Joey Ramone's vocal.
Overall, a slow, but engaging (and, at times, mesmerising) watch, which increasingly impresses on repeat viewings.