Dec 21, 2012
Magic of Cinema in Tabu
Of all the films I've seen this year, Tabu is the only one I'm willing to throw the coveted M word at. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's also the hardest one to write about. I tried at first, but then gave up, even though I'm brimming with thoughts and emotions on this unique, exemplary piece of filmmaking. And in a rare case - in fact, if my memory assists, the only case I can recall - I have had no desire to read anyone else's thoughts on the film either. Not because it isn't worth the time or effort. Au contraire, it's occupied my mind completely since I watched it, its images etched in my memory and its words sweetly whispering in my ears like music. But this is a joyous feeling that I quite like to keep undisturbed from critical scrutiny.
Tabu is separated into two episodes, completely different in tone and narrative form. The first - a look at a curious relationship between the elderly and wealthy Aurora, her African maid, Santa, and their well-meaning neighbor, Pilar - is formally challenging and thematically absurd. The second - a look at a younger Aurora through the memories of an old lover - is poetically narrated and dreamily shot. Between a story of romance and a critique of White colonialism in Africa, between Lisbon and the hills of African mountains, between sequences of sparse, surrealist storytelling and passages of continuously narrated reveals, director Miguel Gomes finds the perfect sweet spot: enough of everything to give the story depth, but not too much of anything to complicate the darkly comic love story.
Scene after semi-silent scene, shot after resplendent shot, Tabu exhibits more and more of everything I love about cinema as it confidently experiments with the fundaments of the medium. But the startling camera work that signifies so much about each character with the games it plays with light and focus, the effective shift to 16 mm in the second episode of the film, the sonic structure that utilizes ambient noise to perfection, and the beautiful performances that blend so well into the atmosphere should all be experienced first hand. It's a niche item, surely, and one that audiences might find puzzling especially during the first episode; but surrender yourself to it and you'll be lost in an enchanting world of longing and passion, with no easy way out.