Portuguese director Miguel Gomes’ third feature Tabu (2012) is an impassioned love story which draws its influences from the early romantic era of 1930s Hollywood filmmaking. Already heralded by critics as one of the stand-out films at the 2012 Berlinale, Tabu is by far one of the most anticipated films at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Aurora (played by Laura Soveral in her old age and Ana Moreira during her younger years), is an elderly Portuguese women with an eccentric personality and a destructive taste for the local casino’s slot machines. She lives with her African maid Santa (Isabel Cardoso) in an imposing Lisbon tower block and has so for many years. Her next-door neighbour is Miss Pilar (Teresa Madruga), a compassionate and caring devout catholic who finds herself caring for Aurora as her mental state starts to show signs of deteriorating. When Aurora is admitted to hospital, Pilar is assigned the task of finding a long lost companion of hers, an Italian man with an outlandish tale of love against adversity set within the shadows of Mount Tabu in Africa.
Tabu is stepped in nostalgia, with Gomes painterly presenting his characters in romanticised black and white – a fact only emphasised by his decision to name his movie after F. W. Murnau’s famous silent film. It results in a film that radiates an intoxicating warmth that perfectly compliments its heartbreaking story. Crossing back and forth through time, Tabu successfully differentiates past from present with subtle lighting techniques, shifting aspect ratios and the gentle use of soft focus – creating a dream-like atmosphere that feels like crossing through a jungle of memories and regrets.
Some quirky splashes of comedy help lighten the mood (especially the film’s delightful opening act which follows an intrepid explorer as he tackles the harsh African planes, only to come across a sad and melancholic crocodile) as do the performances of Madruga and Soveral as the present day elderly ladies who have no one else to depend on but each other. Some delightful sixties tinged musical vignettes intersperse the film’s narrative voiceovers to evoke a range of conflicting emotions, which, when combined with the film’s passionate tale of ill-advised romance culminates in a truly immersive narrative that feels both magically dreamlike and shatteringly heartbreaking.
Playfully switching from the gloom of the present day to the warmth and perceived simplicity of life in the past, Gomes’ Tabu is an enthralling, light-hearted stab at a society unable to escape from imprisoning itself in a cloud of nostalgia.
The 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 20 June-1 July, 2012. For more of our EIFF 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.