Tuesday, 14 May 2013


Palace Films

Now Showing

Miguel Gomes's film will draw easy comparison with The Artist -- shot in 1:1.37 ratio, in black and white, and virtually silent throughout its African-set second half -- but Tabu is a different cinematic creature entirely.

It's certainly not as light or easily enjoyable as Michel Hazanavicius's Oscar-winner: its pleasures reveal themselves over time and upon reflection, which is fitting for a film concerned with memory and past love.

Tabu, which is split into two parts, opens in modern day Lisbon where Pilar (Teresa Madruga), a middle-aged do-gooder whose Christmas holiday plans are thrown out when her Polish billet cancels her stay, becomes concerned with her elderly neighbour, Aurora (Laura Soveral).

A faded glamour puss with a gambling problem, Aurora seems to be losing her grasp on reality; fearing her live-in African carer, Santa (Isabel Munoz Cardoso), is poisoning her, and always asking after an absconding alligator and talk of Africa.

When Aurora dies, Pilar carries out her request to inform a man named Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo), who, much to Pilar's surprise, not only exists but confirms that Aurora did indeed once live in Africa, and owned an alligator.

Upon this revelation, Tabu drifts back to the past, to the early 1960s and colonial Africa: an unnamed country but on the eve of the Portuguese colonial war, where Aurora (now played by Ana Moreira) and Ventura (Carloto Cotta) carry out a clandestine affair whilst Aurora is married and pregnant to another man.

This film's second half, titled Paradise and narrated by the elderly Ventura, removes the dialogue of the characters -- only using their voices when they sing; the young Ventura is a member of a pop band -- but keeps the surrounding sounds: animals, nature and music. Miguel's suggestion that memory is unreliable with minutiae if not the broader strokes.

A favourite at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, it is hard to describe Tabu without doing it a disservice. Even I, while excited to see Tabu, tried to know as little as possible beforehand, and yet it still managed to be completely different to what I was expecting.

I'd suggest you just go in to Tabu open minded and simply go along with it. Its rewards may not be immediate -- and at almost two hours, a little testing -- but Gomes manages to make it nostalgic without being cloying, and like The Artist, much more than its gimmicky design would suggest.

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