REVIEW: Tabu

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Directed by: Miguel Gomes
Written by: Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo
Starring: Teresa Madruga, Laura Soveral, Ana Moreira, Carlotto Cotta
Language Portuguese with English subtitles

The loneliness of old age and desolate landscape of tenements in modern day Portugal are contrasted with a former adventurous life in Africa in this artistic modern melodrama. Tabu immerses us into Pilar’s (Teresa Madruga) pious and empty life skipping from one unfulfilling charitable act to another. Her neighbour Aurora, an elderly gambling addict is suffering from episodes of dementia and deteriorating health and Pilar prays in vein for her mental and physical discovery. The opening of this two tiered story reeks of despair and there’s an isolation and loneliness in every frame that’s palpable. This opening stanza is uncomfortable viewing that is difficult to invest in.

However, the second act of the film flashing back to Aurora’s past and her shared history with a mysterious stranger with mountains and rolling Savannahs of Africa as the backdrop made me sit up and take interest. Director Miguel Gomes mutes the dialogue (only using brief voice over narration) and tells a powerful visual melodrama. Gomes continues to use textured incidental sounds that pop much more in their starring audible role: pebbles hitting ponds, walks though high African grass, leaves being plucked from trees. The silence without inter-titles to hear the specifics of what the characters are saying really draws you into the performances of the characters. Carloto Cotta delivers a solid and stoic performance as the young Ventura and Ana Moreira’s young Aurora peregrinates lust, love, strength and despair with out a word. Moreira has great emotive eyes that you can read like an open book.

It’s a perilous move for a film-maker to so totally depress the audience in the beginning – but looking back, Gomes needs the audience to wallow in the muted existence of the present to totally engross you by the second half of the film.

Tabu begs us not to forget the once beautiful, dramatic, and adventurous wilds of youth that are extinguished in the depressingly inevitable isolation of old age.

Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman

Tabu will be screening on Sun 10 Jun 7:15 PM and Mon 11 Jun 11:45am at the State Theatre as part of the Sydney Film Festival. 

Purchase Tickets here.