Take a little David Lynch, toss in some Luis Buñuel, spice with a bit of Herzog, and flavour with a dash of his fellow countryman, Manoel di Oliveira, and you have Miguel Gomes' Tabu. But don't get me wrong, for even though one can easily see traces of influence from all of these directors in Gomes' work, the Portuguese filmmaker more than stands on his own two cinematic feet in this beautiful and lyrical film. Divided into two parts ("Paradise Lost" and "Paradise"), Tabu is the story of Aurora, an emotionally troubled elderly woman living in modern day Lisbon, and, in flashback, the tale of a young Aurora and her love affair that, if we are given to believing Gomes' flights of fancy, pretty much caused the downfall of colonialism in Africa. But more than anything, this film is about love, about beauty, about the Bohemian sensibilities of these ideas, and the way they are ripped asunder, leaving us basically as a shell of a human being. Uplifting, huh?
Shot in grippingly sharp black and white, and paying homage to F.W. Murnau's 1931 film of the same name (it too is divided into "Paradise" and "Paradise Lost"), Gomes first gives us a seemingly mundane modern day existence - a sort of cinema of endurance-esque take - and then, in the second half, he lets us all see the beauty, the love, the romantic idealism that, sadly, leads to such a mundane existence. This feeling is beautifully captured - both visually (a shivering innocence can be found in the work of cinematographer Rui Poças) and in the acting (Ana Moreira and Laura Soveral, as the two ages of Aurora, are quite resplendent) - and the film is equal parts lustful and harrowing - sometimes with these two particulars encompassing the same space and time even. What I am trying to say here, is that Tabu is a romantically induced tragedy, shot in the most succulent cinematic manner. In other words, what cinema is all about. The film's detractors have complained about Gomes not taking a serious enough stance on colonialism, and this attitude comes mainly from, instead of the director showing the darkness of war and revolution, he shows the darkness of love lost forever. The actors show the range of emotion in their eyes, in their movements, in their bodies. Cinema is meant to entertain, but it is also meant to show the utter beauty in everything as well - even if that beauty acts as tragedy, as it does not only here, but in much of classical literature and art - and that is exactly what Gomes does in Tabu.