Por Mónica Delgado

Tabú is a film of references to the old days of cinema, a two part tale (“Lost paradise” and “paradise”), an ode to black and white nostalgia, to the expressive aesthetics of silent film, with small moments of brilliant humor and a 60’s pop soundtrack. If in Aquel querido mes de agosto, Gomes makes a lucid exercise in expressive renovation and metalanguage surprises, in Tabú, the clear homage to F.W. Murnau’s film feels powerful, like if the ghost of the German filmmaker was tempted to suddenly appear in front of us.

Murnau made Tabu in 1931, in the Bora Bora islands, with Flaherty as company; here Gomes, as in the Murnau film, stops in the portrait of a frustrated love, but this time in Africa and in a different context: A millionaire and powerful married woman, a safari lover, falls in love with a gigolo traveler.

In its first part, Tabú concentrates in Pilar’s character, a pious fifty year old woman, single and worried about her neighbor Aurora, an old lady with depression who is taken care of by a black maid. And in its second part, the film makes a surprising turn, giving the narrative voice to Aurora’s lover, Gian Luca Ventura, an old man that in an ingenious flashback, portrays the years of love spent with her near the Tabú Mountain. Here Gomes utilizes the silent film resources, and Gian Luca’s voiceover is the only thing heard while the character dialogues are completely diminished and replaced with jungle noises: birds, reptiles or insects. This tale of love is narrated from the point of view of one of its protagonists, and some of the enigmas of the first part get resolved.

Like in his other films, Gomes keeps that halo of reality that is interrupted by touches of fantasy or nonsense. Not only the homage to silent cinema is evident, but also the one to golden Hollywood romance cinema in the African continent. There’s some irony in that portrait of the colonial past contrasted with the telling of a casual story, which would make one revise the actual written history of the continent.

Tabú is a singular film, an outstanding evocation, but one which maybe wouldn’t work if it was stripped of its homages and evocations.

Director: Miguel Gomes
Writers: Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo
Producers: Luís Urbano, Sandro Aguilar
Cinematographer: Rui Poças
Starring: Teresa Madruga, Isabel Cardoso, Ana Moreira, Laura Soveral, Carloto Cotta, Henrique Espírito Santo, Cândido Ferreira
Portugal, Germany, Brazil, France
111 mins