by Jim Ridley
For weeks I've been hearing about the gorgeous trailer for Miguel Gomes' Tabu, opening tonight at The Belcourt. A few hardcore local cinephiles had seen the movie already and placed it at or near the top of their lists of 2012's best films, and when I stopped by the theater yesterday people in the lobby were talking about the song featured in the trailer — a knockout 1966 cover of The Ronettes' "Be My Baby," by the Madagascar sibling group Les Surfs. (Click that link, and your day will instantly improve.)
That sent me home to find the trailer, and I actually came up with two: the one The Belcourt is showing (above), and another that uses more of Mickey Gilley's weeper "Lonely Wine" (below). Either one sets the movie's atop this weekend's must-see list, but it's fun to compare the two trailers — the first has more of the playfulness and sensual abandon suggested by the reviews, but the second plays up the drunken romanticism.
Here's a great interview with director Gomes, and read on for Bilge Ebiri's review this week in the Scene:
The first thing to know about Portuguese director Miguel Gomes' mysterious, beautiful Tabu is that you might not "get" it the first time you see it, or maybe even the second time. Not that the film's actual story is particularly hard to understand. Its first part, set in the present, concerns the efforts of a kindly Lisbon woman named Pilar (Teresa Madruga) to help her elderly, eccentric neighbor Aurora (Laura Soveral), who is convinced that African maid Santa (Isabel Cardoso) is practicing black magic on her.
The second half, set in Africa in a deliciously indeterminate colonial past, involves the strange, melodramatic love affair between Aurora (Ana Moreira), here a young heiress, and a dashing adventurer (Carloto Cotta). There's also a surreal prologue involving a great white hunter who is haunted by the specter of a lost love, which settles us into the right dreamlike frame of mind for seeing the film.
Gomes shoots the first part in fairly matter-of-fact style — lots of close-ups and lengthy dialogue scenes — but switches in the second half to a kind of silent-movie pastiche steeped in irony and grand emotions. It'd be easy to see Tabu as a meditation on loss and old age, as the frail seniors' humdrum contemporary reality yields in flashback to their passionate and remarkable youths.
But director Gomes may be hunting more elusive quarry. Tabu is steeped in stories — characters stop to talk about their pasts, tell tall tales to relate dreams, etc. Indeed, that's what makes it such an elliptical beast of a film: At any given moment, the narrative seems on the verge of slipping into the rabbit-hole of memory, or a dream narrative. Stories are how these characters — like us — both make sense of the world and allow it to defy sense and retain its mystery.
As Tabu unfolds, shot in a black-and-white that in its first half seems downright neorealistic and in its second half almost antiquarian, we never quite know where all its connections and tangents are leading us. But in the end, who cares if we ever do? Better to just drift among this bewitching film's competing slipstreams. It's a lovely way to lose your mind.