Movie Review: “Tabu” – Monochrome Dreams

Written by Matthew da Silva January 24, 2013

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Soon gracing the screen at the Hyland Cinema is a beautifully written foreign film from young Portuguese director Miguel Gomes. Shown at the Berlin Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival, Gomes takes us back to the days of early cinema, filming the two split parts of his film in Super 16mm and 35mm, and in black-and-white, no less. What transpires on screen are a series of dream-like images that act as a backdrop to the disguised love story being told, leaving us with a classic European existentialist drama that takes time to unfold, always letting its poetic narrative sink in.

Part I: “Paradise Lost”

We first meet Aurora (Laura Soveral) as an eccentric, senile yet vigorous elderly woman, living in modern day Lisbon. Spending most of her time accusing her caretaker Santa (Isabel Cardoso) of witchcraft and ruminating about a daughter that has abandoned her, Aurora’s only friend (or maybe the only person that listens to her) is her neighbor Pilar (Teresa Madruga). When Aurora falls into ill health, she asks for a final favour from her confidante: to find a man named Gian Luca Ventura.

The first part of the film is short but slightly tedious, setting up the second part of the film in a slow, often repetitive manner, highlighting Aurora’s emotional transgressions. Where Pilar seems to be the main character in the first portion of the film, this quickly shifts, ditching all of Pilar’s plot points for Aurora’s back story. To follow this film though, we must realize that this film does not adhere to the strict, structural, usually linear narrative of most Hollywood features. Rather, this film is a piece of poetry, where the brilliant story told in its second part connects to the first on an existential level, one that must be pondered rather than glossed over.

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Part II: “Paradise”

In the films second portion, we are transported back to a time shortly before the Portuguese Colonial War, where we find a young Aurora, in a far less manic state, living on a farm in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. Aurora is a fierce huntress, described as never missing a shot, a quality that is echoed in the eccentric, maniacal nature of her latter self. Through the use of voice over from Gian Luca Ventura, we are recounted the events that occur during Aurora’s first pregnancy, events that will place a great deal of strain on the lives of those affected.

The films poetic brilliance exists in this second segment. Where voice over has often been ridiculed for its scapegoat use of revealing info that doesn’t seem to fit into the dialogue, “Tabu” brings voice over back to its proper form, using the images on screen to aid in the recounting of the tale. Where first-person dialogue often allows for untruths to be perceived as truths, the voice over allows us a step back; we are spectators, watching the memories that have been ingrained in the mind of Gian Luca, whose entire life has been effected by the events that occurred that year.

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Literary In Nature

In its literary nature, “Tabu” seems to play with the themes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s quintessential novel “One Hundred Years Of Solitude”. With every choice comes a consequence, and with every act of love, madness and war, moral and immoral, there are always varying degrees of resonation. With Aurora’s old age, we see the repercussions of these choices, and we see how her life, and the lives of everyone around her, have been shaped by the events that occurred in “Paradise”. We are left with a tale that tells us that memory will always have a hold on us, no matter how hard we try to remove ourselves from it. Its slow pace, monochromatic nature and requirement for viewer inquisition may cause you to tune out, but try to stay awake for a film that offers a greater reward than most typical Hollywood-fare.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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