The LUX Prize 2012 – Tabu

This is the first blog I will post reviewing the three finalist films of the 2012 LUX Prize.  The first film I am looking at is Tabu from Portuguese director Miguel Gomes.   Cineastes out there will be aware of the 1931 film of the same name; the final film by famous German director F.W. Murnau.  This film shares Murnau’s film’s two act structure and focus on European colonial rule.

The film begins with a strange epilogue about a crocodile and moves to modern-day Lisbon, where a devout middle-aged Catholic woman Pilar (Teresa Madruga) is concerned about her elderly neighbour, the fantastically cantankerous and imperious Aurora (Laura Soveral). Aurora has to be driven home from the casino because she has blown every cent she has on slot machines. It is an addiction which she has inherited from her father, and Gomes shows us that, for all her confusion, the addiction has given her a lively, shrewd sense of life itself being a gamble. In the film’s next section, we flashback to Aurora’s youth as a beautiful young woman living in 70s Portuguese Mozambique and falling in love with handsome adventurer Ventura (Carloto Cotta).

All of the film is in black and white, but this shift into the past is accompanied with a reversion to a film style reminiscent of grainy silent movies. Suitably, there is no dialogue, but rather a narrative voiceover from the older Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo).  To me, it would have seemed more obvious to shoot the scenes set in modern day Lisbon in colour, to indicate a shift to a different style more obvious, but perhaps the director was interested in creating a more subtle effect.

The performances of Soveral and Madruga are superb and the story is both interesting and moving.  The film asks some difficult questions about European rule in Africa, but the main focus is on the human drama.  For all the very conscious cinematic flourishes, the acting and story make this film a highly enjoyable experience for anyone.

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