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The entrancing new film by Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes (Our Beloved Month of August) travels from a modern "Paradise Lost" to an exotic, magical "Paradise" as it intertwines a chronicle of illicit love with a sly overview of Portugal's colonial history.
Following the acclaimed Our Beloved Month of August, Miguel Gomes now firmly establishes himself as one of the major talents in contemporary world cinema with his entrancing third feature. Named after F.W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty’s 1931 classic, Tabu is an intoxicating mix of formal daring, political commentary, haunting romance and exquisite beauty. Filmed in black and white, and divided into two parts — "Paradise Lost," set in the present and filmed in 35mm, followed by an extended flashback to the bygone "Paradise," rendered in beautifully grainy Super 16mm — Tabu intertwines a chronicle of illicit love with a subtle overview of Portugal’s colonial history and its reverberations in the present.
In "Paradise Lost," we first encounter Aurora (Laura Soveral) as a mildly batty elderly woman living in modern-day Lisbon. She spends her days exhausting her savings on gambling binges and alienating her steadfast Cape Verdean housekeeper Santa (Isabel Cardoso) by accusing her of witchcraft — a bit of knee-jerk racism that serves as a reminder of Portugal’s colonial hangover. When Aurora is hospitalized, she confides to Pilar (Teresa Madruga), her kindly, lonesome middle-aged neighbour and seemingly only friend, the name and address of a man whom she wants to know of her fate: Gian Luca Ventura.
In contrast to Aurora’s unceasing chattiness in "Paradise Lost," "Paradise" is marked by a total absence of dialogue. This shift is a nod to early cinema, but the roots of "Paradise" reach back further, into the magic of oral storytelling. Narrated by the now elderly Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo), the film’s second part takes place fifty years in the past, where a much younger and happier Aurora (Ana Moreira) is married, affluent and pregnant, living on a large African estate with a battalion of black servants and hosting garden parties where alcohol and firearms are always handy. Life seems to promise only pleasant placidity — until Aurora falls hopelessly in love with the handsome, moustachioed drummer Ventura (Carloto Cotta), whose band specializes in Portuguese versions of Phil Spector hits. Running away into the wilderness at the foothills of Mount Tabu, the lovers play out their illicit affair under the eyes of a watchful, mystical crocodile.
A colonialist metaphor wrapped in a gloriously cinephilic fever dream, Tabu delivers one of the year’s most rapturous love letters to the cinema.