Combustible Celluloid
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With: Teresa Madruga, Laura Soveral, Ana Moreira, Henrique Espírito Santo, Carloto Cotta, Isabel MuĖoz Cardoso, Ivo Müller, Manuel Mesquita
Written by: Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo
Directed by: Miguel Gomes
MPAA Rating:
Language: Portuguese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 118
Date: 11/06/2013

Tabu (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Croc of Ages

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Portuguese director Miguel Gomes last played around with narrative and presentation in Our Beloved Month of August, starting his movie about a failed attempt to film a huge screenplay, turning into a documentary-like film, and then slowly morphing back into a fictional tale of romance. His movie Tabu takes similar liberties with time, place and reality, to powerful effect.

The movie's first half focuses on three women. There's the aged Aurora (Laura Soveral), who is a handful. She's the type that sneaks off and spends all her money at the casino after having a dream about it. Santa (Isabel Cardoso) is her stoic housekeeper, and Pilar (Teresa Madruga) is their concerned neighbor. When Aurora grows ill, she sends for a man called Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo). After the funeral, Ventura joins Pilar and Santa for coffee. And he relays the incredible story of himself and Aurora as young people living in Africa, near Mount Tabu.

Young Aurora (Ana Moreira) is a restless spirit, but she agrees to marry a wealthy tea farmer (Ivo Müller), since he gives her exotic gifts, like a baby crocodile. (The crocodile keeps slipping away throughout the movie, perhaps a metaphor for Aurora, or for the movie itself.) Ventura (Carloto Cotta) comes along, and before too long, has begun a passionate, illicit affair with Aurora, even after she's pregnant with her husband's child. The affair continues to extreme lengths before coming to painful end.

Gomes films this last part with no dialogue; only the older Ventura's narration can be heard, and occasionally sound effects and -- notably -- singing. Ventura is a member of a pop group that sings Phil Spector-type songs (the Ramones cover tune "Baby I Love You" is used), but other kinds of singing are sometimes heard as well. The effect is surprisingly powerful, as if the removal of dialogue somehow makes room for more emotional impact. It also heightens the idea of a story being told, rather than something occurring in reality. (The low-contrast black-and-white cinematography helps.)

Tabu is definitely more rewarding after the second half than the first, but fans of passionate, doomed love are encouraged to seek it out. (Note: F.W. Murnau's 1931 film of the same name, Tabu is also about a doomed, passionate love affair.)

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