Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Miguel Gomes, director and co-script w/Mariana Ricardo
Starring; Teresa Madruga (Pilar), Laura Soveral (Old Aurora), Ana Moreira (Young Aurora), Henrique Espirito Santo (Old Gian Luca Ventura) Carloto Cotta (Young Ventura), Ivo Muller (Aurora’s husband), Manuel Mesquita (Mario)
The new film by Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes won two prizes each at the Berlin and Las Palmas festivals before arriving in Toronto at TIFF. After a lot of favourable talk last week at TIFF, Tabu is opening at Bell Lighbox today.
Art film, colonial melodrama, romance
In Mozambique during the time of Portuguese colonial rule, bizarre events often occurred. Tabu opens with an eerie scene of a colonial being pursued by fate, in the form of a ravenous crocodile, while accompanying natives look on in wonderment.
Temporarily abandoning the magical feel of the opening scene, the film moves to contemporary Lisbon where the saintly Pilar, an elderly widow, is concerned over the health of her wealthy neighbour Aurora. Also a widow, Aurora has a fraught relationship with her Mozambique-born servant Santa, who may be casting spells on her. When Aurora falls gravely ill, she asks Pilar to find Gian Luca Ventura, an aging Italian who lives in Lisbon.
By the time, Pilar contacts Ventura, Aurora has died. After Ventura, Pilar and Santa attend Aurora’s funeral, they decide to have a drink to commemorate her life. Over drinks, Ventura tells his story of forbidden love. He and Aurora had fallen passionately in love with each other fifty years earlier in Mozambique despite the fact that she was married and pregnant at the time. While Ventura recounts his tale of “amour fou,” the style of the film changes back to the magical idiom of the first section of Tabu.
The actors in this final section of the film don’t speak; all narration is done by the older Ventura. Mozambique in its dying years of colonialism is beautifully evoked: the wealth of the Portuguese upper class, including Aurora, is contrasted with the servitude and poverty of the African natives. A crocodile appears as a figure of foreboding. The hopeless romance of the young Italian musician Ventura and the lovely young Aurora achieves the unlikely resonance of a Portuguese Wuthering Heights.
This film is so dominated by its director and his stylish preferences that it’s hard to judge performances. Still, it’s fair to say that Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta as the young couple are convincingly charismatic and romantic.
This is truly a director’s film and Miguel Gomes acquits himself nobly. Tabu owes its artistic prowess to Gomes.
Truly art house fare, Tabu will only appeal to select audiences. To me, it was one of the delights of TIFF and I recommend it to filmgoers who want to see something truly different and memorable.