Teresa Madruga, Laura Soveral, Ana Moreira, Henrique Espirito Santo, Carloto Cotta and Isabel Munoz Cardoso
Film making is an art that just like anything else, relies on its creator to really make it something that shows creativity, integrity and shows a person's eye for something extraordinary and bigger than his existence. I really support filmmakers who are willing to go all the way, create something different without really thinking about pleasing anyone but just their inner creative self. Filmmakers specially in these days tend to make movies that are either going to please the audience only or the awards bodies. But then there are people who would rather make something that speaks to them and speaks of them than anything else. If that makes them pretentious then i love pretentiousness. I don't want to see the same movies over and over again, art speaks of its maker and that is what makes stand-out creations. World is a diverse place, people are different, that is what makes it so fun. So Tabu is a Portuguese drama directed by Miguel Gomes who i really don't know as a filmmaker. Tabu won the FIPRESCI prize and Alfred Bauer Award (given to films that opens new perspectives) at the Berlin Film Festival. It also made it at #2 on the Sight & Sound's best films of 2012 list. Tabu, the name comes from the classic 1931 F.W. Murnau movie which has the same two part structure and somewhat resemblance of the plot. What makes this film a stand out is how its mixture of both past and future, love and loss, old and young, melancholy and nostalgia, fable and tale, reality and surrealism creates something so wonderful that you wont be able to resist its aching power in the end.
Tabu begins with a voice over by the director himself reading some kind of a poetical text. The beginning of the movie is very much what i was expecting this movie to be all the way but i found myself taken by surprise when i found out that this was just an introduction to some of the themes that runs through this movie. The way it begins is very eerie and kind of haunting in a way. Fables, mostly if they involve deaths and spirits in a far away land is always scary. Here, it actually forms the idea of longing, sympathy, love and of course crocodiles! The story is about an explorer, traveling through the jungles of Africa, eaten by a crocodile in an apparent suicide and the reason is his hopeless love affair. We are told that many people says that one can sometimes see a beautiful lady on the banks of that river. The inclusion of a crocodile sharing that woman's sympathy with her is very surreal. We then get to the first part of the movie which is titled "Paradise Lost". In modern Lisbon, we have three women living in an old building. There is Pilar (Madruga) who is a catholic middle-age woman. Most of the times she involves herself in the frequent dramas of her neighbor, the old lady Aurora (Soveral). Aurora lives from her pension, she is a very superstitious, talkative and a lonely soul. She lives with a black maid, Santa, whom she thinks is practicing voodoo on her, a plotting that she might have done with her daughter. Aurora sometimes escapes and spends all of her money at casinos. A scene where she talks to Pilar about her dreams involving hairy monkeys raping her and some kind of longing for something she doesn't remember. It gives us a hint that she had some kind of a life back then, something happened to her and even if she doesn't really remember, she was never alone and had someone she truly loved. Aurora's declining health makes her open up to her friends, she tells them about someone who must miss her, Gian-Luca Ventura (Santo). Pilar finds him but its too late.
The first part of the movie is very strong in terms of its themes about loneliness amid having people around you that cares for you. We always have one foot in the past and the other one in the future, we never fully live the present. Past is what matters to us a lot and if that involves loosing someone you truly loved, you never get over it. Pilar is never the center of the story but she is an important part. She is an activist, religious person, loves art but never truly has a life of her own. She just cares about her neighbor Aurora and her problems. Aurora is every bit of what a person becomes in the end, she has nothing more to work for or to live for. She gambles and she has dreams and has her insane ideas about things. Her past is always seen in her, she of course doesn't realize it. The setting of modern Lisbon.... and did i mentioned already that this movie is in black and white? The city looks as if its mourning after a major tragedy, there is sadness in the air, people are mere people and industries seems to be taken over everything. People have become empty but not soulless. We don't really know what or who Aurora really was but that is the most interesting thing about this movie, when we do, its something that we never expected her to be. The old man knows Aurora, he was once a colonist from Mozambique, it was a Portuguese colony back then. He starts talking about Aurora's past which involves him. "Aurora had a farm in Africa close to the Tabu Mountain ..." and we then come to the second part of the movie which is simply titled "Paradise".
This is where the tone and feel of the movie completely changes. Tabu becomes a silent movie with the story of Aurora narrated by that man, meaning the characters in the flashbacks never speaks. We see the young and beautiful Aurora, she is played by Ana Moreira. Aurora used to live with her husband near the Tabu Mountain in Portuguese Africa as they used to call it. Aurora was very well educated and also a very skilled hunter who never missed a shot. She also has a crocodile which was her husband's gift to her. The crocodile moves around freely in the garden area. Aurora have already met Ventura but it is only when the crocodile once escapes, they finally "meet" and the sparks are ignited. It is as if the crocodile wanted them to meet, he had a a part in their fate. She is pregnant with her husband's child but they still get in an affair. Aurora slowly starts loosing a grasp on her aims and her life and things starts crumbling down for her. The movie ends on a note that leaves one heartbroken and just aching for them. The way this love story is unfolded and the way it looks and feel reminds you of those classic romantic dramas. The tone becomes very moody and arresting. It is exactly as if listening to someone talk about their past, a very heated and passionate past and you seem to try every bit to imagine how it must be like. The picture you paint, the feelings you try to feel and the people you try to imagine, it seems exactly like that. Young Ventura is played by very good-looking, Carloto Cotta. He is someone any woman will fall for. The affair gets very passionate, a doomed love nonetheless but still wild and careless. Africa never felt so colorless, the people that colonize them seems dull. Passion always ignites, if its not there then everything seems dull.
Miguel Gomes directs the movie with passion and eagerness, he experiments with the style of executing two different timelines in different ways to make each of them speak in their own way. That is what makes it such a brilliant movie and a different one. The second part seems grand in every way but never does it takes away from anything or makes some kind of a statement. The cinematography is staggering. Whether its the opening sequence, the first part or the second part, appropriate kind of formats and techniques are used to make them look the way they should. There are some shots that are breathtaking to look at, they utilized the beauty of Africa very much. The performances are convincing enough and the movie is written beautifully. Tabu shows us the inevitable fate of not only its characters but us, the people too. When you get old, you feel lonely, isolation takes over. The insanity, wildness and vibrancy of our past, the youth and beautiful memories is what keeps us occupied. Past is what keeps our present alive. Adventures are what makes our life worth and the ups and downs are what makes one realize the importance of our time here. Tabu beautifully presents us with a movie that has the history and mysticism of Africa, a heated love story, representation of people and their life that becomes after the life the once was, memories that is and delivers all those things in a specific way commenting on cinema of the past. Its both a simple movie and a beguiling thing of beauty, either way it leaves a mark on you. Its moving, melancholic, nostalgic and very artistic.