Review: Tabu

Director Miguel Gomes’s previous effort for Our Beloved Month of August was an experimental film, so it’s no surprise that Tabu follows along the same vein. Although primarily a drama, Gomez manages to incorporate elements of eccentric comedy and ample surrealism into the mix topped with luscious black and white cinematography.

The film is split up into two interconnected stories; a technique I recently witnessed in Chungking Express. Aurora is the character central to them both; the first, in present day Lisbon shows her as an elderly woman, manipulative and under the influence of gambling, while both her carer Santa, and neighbour Pilar look after her. When they realise she is close to dying, they track down her former lover, Ventura. He narrates the second segment chronicling their lives together in 70s Africa filled with affairs and unfortunate events.

On the whole, I found Chungking Express favourable and intriguing, yet the first story far superior to the second. This is the same in Tabu. The opening sequence worked perfectly for me, with surreal visuals and a philosophical voice-over, yet translated over half of the film it becomes rather lagging. This would be a fatal flaw if not for Gomes’ striking visuals and range of cinematic techniques. For example in one scene depicting a conversation between Aurora and her two rival lovers conversing cuts out the dialogue much like a silent film, while at other moments the diegesis of crickets, birds and other ambiance is amplified to give us a real sense of location and involvement.

This isn’t to say that Tabu is a triumph of style over substance. On the contrary, both stories are detailed and the dialogue well scripted. We often wonder about the sanity of Aurora as she complains about her treatment under her maid and dreams of crocodiles, yet Gomes keeps our interest running with the significance of the opening sequence revealed in the second half.

The film addresses many important issues from age and mental health to ethnicity, culture and love. Most of all, as a drama should, it concerns the characters themselves, their personas and how they fit into the film as a whole. Laura Soveral creates the impression of a headstrong and slightly loopy old lady reminiscing her past life upon her death bed, while Teresa Madruga does a fine job as the religious Pilar who tries her best to help sort things out.

Overall Tabu may retain a certain originality in its blend of silent-style cinema, black and white cinematography and experimentality, yet the pacing of the second part slows the momentum. I’d give it a 3/5.

15 certificate

Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Paddy Johnson (September ’12)