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This curious and rather beautiful film from Portuguese director Miguel Gomes riffs on Murnau's silent classic "Tabu: A Story of the South Seas" - and comprises a short prologue followed by a narrative split into two; the first half set in modern day Lisbon, the second in colonial Africa fifty years before. The link between the two timelines is the character of Aurora (first seen in an increasingly senile and volatile state, imagining plots formed against her by her absent daughter and long suffering maid) and her former lover Ventura who is summoned to Aurora's deathbed by her sympathetic neighbour Pilar. It is the elderly Ventura who narrates the events of the second half of the film, describing the passionate and failed love affair he embarked upon with the newly married woman. What is established as a rather odd, fairly uninteresting domestic drama of old age and loss blossoms unexpectedly into a dream-like, exotic and tragic romance.
What is unusual, and wonderful, is how the events of Africa are presented as a sort of silent movie - all the dialogue is absent although all the sound effects are present, which to me said something about the way we remember the distant past - voices and dialogue are lost to us while images stay strongly logged in our memory. The performances are all very good - Ana Moreira's melancholy beauty and Carloto Cotta's matinee idol looks are perfect as the younger, silent versions of the lovers.
Shot entirely in black and white, and in different film stocks to cleverly evoke the silent era in the second half, what starts out in relative mundanity does have something fascinating and moving to offer by contrast. Well worth investigating.
what a stunningly beautiful movie.
Tabu is saturated with some of the most consistently gorgeous shot compositions I've ever seen. At the same time, the way Part 2 was told entirely in voice over got old very quickly, and was far from the best way the film could have let its story unfold.
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In 7 official lists
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This movie ranks #2 in filmSPOT's Best Portuguese Films
This movie ranks #5 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films: 1001-2000
This movie ranks #65 in TSPDT's 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films
This movie ranks #71 in BBC's The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #71 in A.V. Club's The Best Movies of the 2010s
This movie ranks #86 in Time Out's The 100 Best Romantic Films
This movie ranks #91 in Cahiers du Cinéma's Annual Top 10 Lists