Thursday, 16 February 2012
'Tabu' Berlinale (Competition) review:
After a week of films that have only occasionally dipped their toes in the shallow end of decent, Portuguese colonial love story 'Tabu' is the first in this year's competition that I would describe as unequivocally brilliant. Director Miguel Gomes divides his highly stylised tale into two parts presented in reverse chronological order, with the first ("a paradise lost") showing the lonely, paranoid final years of a bitter old woman living in Lisbon, frittering away her savings through compulsive gambling.
Aurora (Laura Soveral) is losing her marbles, convinced that her African maid, Santa (Isabel Cardoso), is out to get her and trusting only her nurturing, perennially concerned Polish neighbour Pilar (Teresa Madruga). This chapter of the movie is told from the introverted Pilar's perspective, with Aurora a sad and desperate figure, separated from a distant daughter who seems to pay her no attention. It ends with the old lady dying and Pilar coming into contact with her former lover, Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo) who, over coffee, narrates the second chapter ("paradise"), shedding light on their doomed love affair as care-free youngsters living a decadent existence in a then-thriving African colony.
It's here that the film really springs into life as we begin to understand more about the sad story behind the difficult and slightly unlikable lady of the earlier scenes. In this sunnier part of the film Aurora - heiress to a colonial fortune and world famous big game hunter - is played by the dazzlingly pretty Ana Moreira and Ventura - a well travelled lothario and successful rock and roll drummer - is portrayed by the charismatic Carloto Cotta. The whole thing is narrated, without any dialogue between characters, as old Ventura recounts how he fell in love with Aurora even as she was pregnant by her husband. They try to do the "decent" thing and go their separate ways, yet it's far too painful and they come back together with disastrous results.
Despite the fact the entire film is black and white, framed in a 4:3 aspect ratio, a lot of it reminded me of the hyper-colourful films of Wes Anderson: with Portuguese language cover versions of 60s popular songs, childlike romanticism of the colonial spirit of adventure, characters with obscure quasi-celebrity status, and a highly precise sense of composition. Funny, bizarre, imaginative, unique, and emotional in that way that hits the hairs on the back of your neck - I'll be surprised if this festival goes on to present a better film than 'Tabu'.