Monday, November 5, 2012

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)
Tabu (2012)
Best New Film
Genre: Drama
Director: Miguel Gomes
Starring: Teresa Madruga, Ana Moreira, Carloto Cotta, Laura Soveral, Isabel Cardoso
Language: Portuguese
Duration: 118 min.
Rating: 8.4
Summary:
An unique tale centered on an elderly Portuguese woman in the present day, and her younger self in colonial Africa, fifty years ago.
Tabu is a film directed by Miguel Gomes, co-written with Mariana Ricardo. It premiered in competition at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival, where it was awarded the Alfred Bauer Prize for Artistic Innovation by the Mike Leigh led international jury. It also won the FIPRESCI critic's prize for best film in the main competition.

It's a strange and beguiling film, is told very unconventionally, requires a great deal of patience to appreciate, and is full of nerdy cinematic references; but it's refreshingly inventive, and is always an extremely beautiful and mesmerizing watch, laced with lyrical images and captured with exquisite Academy ratio black and white cinematography that begs to be seen on the big screen.

Tabu (2012)

After a brief documentary-like introductory prologue, the main story is told in two parts, much like the classic F. W. Murnau silent from which this takes its title. The first part is set in the present day, where the elderly compulsive gambling Aurora (Laura Soveral), lives in Lisbon. Suffering from dementia and rapidly fading health, she is looked after by her no-nonsense maid Santa (Isabel Cardoso), and her trusted neighbor Pilar (Teresa Madruga).

It's a very slow and hazy segment that takes its time sketching out the lives and circumstances of these three women; and it could have easily been a sappy melodramatic mess, but Gomes gives us richly detailed eccentric characters and unemotional deadpan acting, somewhere in between the seriousness of Robert Bresson and the whimsy of Aki Kaurismaki, that keeps things different and makes it engrossing to follow. Eventually, the plot begins to take some shape, as the lonely middle aged Pilar (Madruga is captivating to watch, and her performance is easily the best one here) involves herself deeper into her neighbor's life, but then almost immediately, the film takes an abrupt yet wonderful turn into the unknown.

Tabu (2012)

Really an amazing turn, because this second part is so stylistically different from what came before, completely switching genres and also going from sharp 35mm to grainy 16mm film stock,  and yet the change is altogether seamless. Transporting us back fifty years to colonial Africa, where the young and gorgeous Aurora (Ana Moreira), a bizarre character who could have fallen out of a Wes Anderson film (the sole heiress to a large fortune, and a renowned big game hunter who owns a prized pet baby crocodile), falls in love and begins an affair with her handsome and roguish Italian neighbor Gianluca (Carloto Cotta).

Again, Gomes takes what could have been a typical old school romance and stylishly turns it into a unique, charming, and genuinely touching story. This section is essentially an imagined flashback taking place entirely in Pilar's head; and it takes awhile to notice, but it is remarkably presented with no live dialog, only the poetically scripted and distinguished voice-over from the older Gianluca (Henrique Espírito Santo), nostalgically recalling the tale to Pilar over a cup of coffee.

But this is no gimmick, because truthfully who could remember the exact words spoken so long ago. Moreover, because both Pilar's and Aurora's characters have been so carefully crafted in the first half of the film, this romanticized recollection and dreamy vision of the past is not only congruent and believable, but also emotionally riveting.

Tabu (2012)

Adding to the magical aura is an extraordinary use of sound. There may be no dialog and the images are monochrome, but every scene is colored in with all kinds of deliberately atmospheric ambient sounds and noises that work to glorious effect. There is also a lovely mix of 60's era pop tunes on the soundtrack, including a rousing Spanish rendition of Be My Baby performed by Madagascar sibling group Les Surfs, and the cheeky anachronistic use of The Ramones' cover of Baby I Love You. Still even with the use of these sentimental tracks, Gomes keeps things light and their purpose is never blatantly manipulative.

It's difficult to comprehend just what Gomes has accomplished here in a single viewing. He has wrapped a simple and standard story in a creatively ambitious yet respectfully subtle package, and the results are an intensely evocative and immensely rewarding cinematic experience. It could very well be a masterpiece, but at the very least, it is one of the best films of the year.
Bonjour Tristesse

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)

12 comments:

Michaël Parent said...

First time I read about it! It's now on my list!

Ricardo D. R. Watson said...

Did you post a previous entry for this movie in your blog? I remember that I wrote something about it. Superb movie.

d_4 said...

With an initial reaction of "Is this gonna bore me?" I am now confused. I'll have to give this a watch and see how amazing it is myself.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I'm sure you'll enjoy this, and you'll probably be able to recognize a lot more references in it than I did.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah, good memory. I posted a short capsule of it when I first screened it last month.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

That was my initial reaction as well. It turned out to be a sweet surprise.

Lisa Thatcher said...

This was a film I tried to get to at the Sydney festival and missed, so I will have to wait for main stream release here (if that happens) or dvd. It looks gorgeous and right up my alley I have to say. I'm really keen to catch it. Great review BT.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I'm almost certain that you will enjoy this. Especially the second half. Can't wait to read your thoughts on it.

blahblahblahtoby said...

So from this review I take it I shouldn't hesitate to see it? I read this review last week and thought it sounded interesting. Reading it again knowing I have a chance to see it is a whole new ball game. I'm there.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah, another one you can't miss. Best mix of innovation and charm you will see all year.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

You were right!
I loved it.

I really liked both halves actually. I thought the Polish Nun in the first half sleeping with the guy and faking her persona was (to quote Dorothy Parker) "just darling." Fantastic film.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah that bit was fascinating. Almost makes me wish for a spinoff exploring that part of the story. Thanks for checking back in, Lisa!

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