When the new Portuguese film “Tabu” started I had absolutely no idea why I had chosen to see the film. As the film continued I had less and less idea and even thought about leaving the screening, however I stuck with it and it turned out to be quite interesting.
“Tabu” is a film shot in glorious black and white that is told in two parts. The first part, which is subtitled “Paradise Lost”, is set in modern day Portugal and is about a middle aged woman named Pilar who lives next door to an elderly woman named Aurora who appears to be getting frailer by the day. Pilar is very concerned about her neighbour’s wellbeing and attempts to get into contact with Aurora’s daughter to inform her of her mother’s decline in health. Aurora’s maid, Santa, however tells Pilar that the daughter does not wish to be contacted, nor for her number to be given out to anyone, and soon enough Aurora’s health has become so bad that she is near death. While on her deathbed, Aurora starts babbling nonsense about a crocodile and a mystery man named Gian Luca. Pilar and Santa fear she has lost her mind until Aurora actually asks them to send for Gian Luca and actually produces an address for where he could be found.
The second part of the film, subtitled “Paradise” is entirely narrated by Gian Luca, who turns out to be Aurora’s one great love, who recounts the story of Aurora’s unknown past back when she used to live in colonial Africa. He talks about her love of the country and hunting and how along with her husband they all became great friends. However friendship ended up leading to a doomed love affair, as the two tried against the odds to stay together no matter what the cost, even if it meant murder.
As I mentioned I struggled initially with this film to the point that I had no idea why I would choose to see it. The first part of the story I found rather dull, at least up until the point when a sense of mystery appeared in the storyline. The thought of watching an old lady slowly dying wasn’t my idea of a good time, and this part of the story also had a pointless bit about a Polish woman dodging a stay at Pilar’s house. I still do not know the point of that sub-plot. Still, as is obvious, I stuck with the film and really enjoyed the African set second half. Even though you always knew where the story was going, and it took its time getting there, it was very well told and I actually liked the narration based style of storytelling in this half.
The highlight of the film is no doubt the stunning black and white cinematography with Africa looking absolutely sublime in the second half of the film. Even though I enjoyed the narrative of the second half more, I actually think this segment has a few performances that are a little suspect and broad, especially the guy who played the young Gian Luca, Carloto Cotta. The first half has no performance issues as the acting is all top notch. “Tabu” is a film full of nostalgia and I liked the fact that this old woman that her neighbours thought they knew actually had a whole other life she never spoke of.
Overall, “Tabu” was an interesting and well made film, however it is definitely a film of two parts and sadly I really only responded to one of them. That said, it is getting rave reviews around the world so what do I know.