Miguel Gomes’ offbeat, poetic and ravishingly beautiful Tabu is a delightfully lavish exercise in melodrama – a genre rarely associated with arthouse rigour and minimalism. And, it’s also a meditation on old age, an infectious love story, an ingenious exercise in formal audacity and, crucially, a striking commentary on the dark heart of colonialism – including, the shallow romanticization of it in cinema. And these, in turn, made this delightfully old-fashioned and yet impishly modernist. The movie started with a dreamlike non-sequitar sequence of a Portuguese explorer in Africa surrounded by the suffering continent’s slave natives and haunted by his dead wife. At this point the main narrative kicked off, structured into two dramatically different halves (stylistically, spatially and temporarily). Part 1 (“Paradise Lost”) was centered on three Lisbon-based women –soft-spoken Human Rights activist Pilar (Teresa Madruga), her neurotic and aged neighbor Aurora (Laura Soveral) and the latter’s African immigrant housemaid (Isabel Muñoz Cardoso) who regularly faces racist insinuations from her senile employer; Part 2 (“Paradise”), told in a long flashback, and set somewhere in Lusophone Aftica just before the Portuguese Colonial War began, chronicled the scorching, illicit affair between a younger Pilar (Ana Moreira), married to a wealthy colonial settler, and a rakish young musician (Carloto Cotta) fleeing from his debobair past. The restrained chamber drama of the first half made for a fascinating contrast to the gloriously sweeping and swashbuckling second which, interestingly, almost played out like an old film with a voice-over narration replacing onscreen dialogues. The elegiac piano score that the film began and is interspersed with, peppy pop songs and rich, grainy B/W photography marvelously complemented its quirky, impressionistic and emotionally enthralling tone and texture.
Director: Miguel Gomes
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Adventure