Sunday, January 27, 2013


Perhaps the hardest film to describe since “The Turin Horse” is Miguel Gomes’ allusive, languorous and entrancing “Tabu,” filmed in 16mm black-and-white and told in two halves, the first in contemporary Lisbon and the second in colonial Mozambique. We first meet Dona Aurora late in life, an ornery woman given to gambling sprees who believes her lifelong maid, Santa, secretly practices witchcraft against her. (Slow-acting curse.) Her kindly neighbor, Dona Pilar, wants to help her, but doesn’t know how, until Aurora asks her to summon a man, Gian Luca Ventura, whose name she’s never before mentioned.

Pilar finds Gian Luca at a nursing home, where he recounts his history with Aurora. She was happily married to a moneyed farm owner in the valley of Mount Tabu when he met her through his bandmate Mario, her husband’s close friend. Instantly an electric spark of sexual attraction jolted through them, and in the film’s second half (largely silent but for Gian Luca’s present-day narration), we see their reluctant and star-crossed affair unfold and unravel.

What’s the movie about? Giving yourself over to the enveloping warmth of its shadows. Listening only to the regretful words of the elderly, as much for their beauty as their wisdom. Storytelling both exceedingly simple and mischievously complex – at times verging into stream of consciousness, some events as likely as not figments of the imaginations of the characters relating them. Wondering what the movie is about, what Aurora’s pet crocodile (who figures so prominently) symbolizes. A cinematized vision of colonial life that makes no claim to reflect reality. A traveling band wandering Africa covering Phil Spector songs. Clouds in the shape of animals. The way a woman’s lip quivers at the height of sexual ecstasy and at the pit of romantic despair. The gaudy neon lights of a casino against the dolorous face of a woman paralyzed by nostalgia. Love letters thrown into a fire. Love letters not thrown into a fire. So there’s your review.

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