Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)

Winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize for Artistic Innovation and the FIPRESCI Jury Prize at the 2012 Berlinale, Miguel Gomes' passionate and provocative drama, Tabu, about love and memory, is separated into two distinct halves. Opening up in contemporary Lisbon, it follows a temperamental old woman named Aurora (Laura Soveral), her Cape Verdean maid, Santa (Isabel Munoz Cardoso), and her caring neighbour,Pilar (Teresa Madruga), who shares the same floor of Aurora's apartment building. Pilar does her best to take care of Aurora, who gambles away all of her money at casinos and is convinced that her maid is practicing witchcraft on her.

When Aurora's health begins to fade she asks for Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo), revealed to be a man she once knew but had never spoken of before, to come to her bedside. When he is tracked down, he reveals to the women an extraordinary tale (at this point the film shifts to the past) of obsessed love shared by he and a pregnant and married Aurora (Carloto Cotta and Ana Moreira respectively) in Africa in a period prior to Portuguese Colonial War, and the events that led to their since life-long separation.

Tabu is a beguiling and original film. Gomes has utilised a number of interesting stylistic devices; a 4:3 ratio and classy black-and-white cinematography from the very beginning, and in the second half a complete absence of dialogue, reliance on gesture and expression, and a blend of voice-over narration (Ventura's account), tribal beats, pop songs and the concoction of sounds from the Mount Tabu location. These inspired ideas are not a gimmick and give the storytelling unique qualities that are both alluring and distracting. I wasn't convinced they all worked, or were necessary, and when I viewed Tabu amidst the 2012 Sydney Film Festival it wasn't one of my highlights. But still, there was plenty about this film that I admired.

Even at close to two hours, which is a test, Gomes' film is certainly not dull. It does evoke a strange feeling of hypnosis in the second half as the sweaty African climate and the voice-over lull one into a surreal viewing state. It felt like I was dreaming up the story of Aurora's past for myself. Hard to describe. For future analysis I would be interested in giving it another go, ensuring I am fully alert. Perhaps I would have a completely different experience.

This adventurous drama uses subversive humour and creates effective tension. The performances are great, the sound design is brilliant and this rich tapestry of ideas will leave viewers with plenty to discuss. It looks explores the loneliness and bitterness that accompanies aging, the longing for the past. It also optimistically addresses the idea that fleeting chapters in our lives, if they significantly re-route them at the time, will always remain with us, the increasingly unreliability of memory aside.

My Rating: ★★★1/2


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