'Show, don't tell' is the maxim of film but Tabu dispenses with all that nonsense and tells it while the telling is good. A film of two halves, the deathly dull and directionless opening half can kill any enthusiasm for the far better second.
Tabu opens with a whimsical Wes Anderson prologue: an explorer makes his way through thick African jungle while the poetic narration tells us that the explorer is heavy of heart over a woman and throws himself to a crocodile. The action then moves to modern day Lisbon where Pilar (Madruga) is a worried neighbour to the paranoid and racist old woman Aurora (Soveral) and her African maid Santa (Isabel Cardoso).
When Aurora is hospitalised, she asks for a Gian Luca (Henrique Espirito Santo), a man no one has ever heard her mention, but she dies before he makes to her bedside. Encouraged to recount the tale of how they met, Gian Luca's story takes us back to Africa forty years ago to the slope of Tabu, where Aurora (now played by Moreira), is a plantation owner's wife whose head is turned by the musician Gian Luca (now played by Cotta)…
Why writer-director Miguel Gomes spent so much time - almost an hour - dithering about apartments and listening to old woman's meandering dreams. It's boring. It's dull. Roll on Gian Luca's recounting. And recount the tale Gian Luca sure does. Then he recounts it some more. The entire second half is, apart from sound effects like gunshots (Aurora is a rhino hunter) and crickets, played out in silence with only Gian Luca's matter-of-fact voice for company. That and the grainy black and white footage, that is.
The voiceover does lend itself to the odd cracking line: 'the heart, that most indolent of muscles', and 'In her arms the future was a vague and stupid prospect.' The second half of Tabu, with his exotic setting and illicit love affair, works a hell of a lot better than the first half as it goes about building this grande love story. However, maybe it's how the story is delivered - the 'and then and then and then' style - but it's not engaging the way it should be.
While the climax does tug at the heartstrings you're made sweat for it - a payoff that's a tough climb, a hard slog - as there is a lot of monotony to cut a swathe through first.
Review by Gavin Burke | 16:05 | Saturday 8th September 2012 | Movie Review