The heart, “the most insolent muscle of the whole anatomy”, proves an impossible beast to tame in Portuguese directorMiguel Gomes’ tale of love lost,Tabu.

Winner of the Silver Bear at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival last year, Tabu is a love story told in two parts, revitalising every trick in the early Western cinema book.

Bouncing from a dull present to a long-forgotten past, Tabu takes a trip from modern day Lisbon to 1960s Portuguese Africa, excavating a painful romance between the feisty, young newlywed Aurora (Laura Soveral) and the adventurous, rugged boy-next-door Gian Luca (Carloto Cotta). Innovative director Miguel Gomes takes on this classic Star-Crossed-Lovers Tale armed with considerable knowledge of the Western film canon, calling on cinematic conventions popular in the 1920s silent era. Even the film’s title, Tabu, is a nod to a film made by German silent film legend F. W. Murnau (Nosferatu, Sunrise). Shot entirely in black and white, Tabu sees classic Murnau chiaroscuro effects used to glorify ordinary characters, exaggerate dramatic tension and find romance in the mundane.

Gomes’ love of early film technique proves a perfect paintbrush to canvas the central love story. After a stagnant, quiet first half of the film set in present day Portugal, Gomes traces memory to Africa in the ’60s, in the days before the Portuguese Colonial War began. It’s at the foot of the Tabu Mountain, we’re privy to a wonderfully simple tale of illicit romance set at the heart of a very tense racial climate. Enchantingly acted without dialogue, the second half of the film is driven by the two young lovers; the Portuguese Orlando Bloom Cotta as the dreamy Gian Luca Ventura and Cannes favourite Ana Moreira as the intensely whimsical (young version of) Aurora. Cotta nails the part of Rugged Romantic Lead, wistfully staring down the lens and winning audience hearts early by calling animals with a conch shell. Swoon.

Heartrending and quietly tragic, Tabu is on-Notebook-par with some of the most romantic movies ever made. Gomes avoids Hollywood exaggeration, instead looking to the foundations of filmmaking to elegantly render the pure, brutal melancholia of lost love.

**** out of five stars.


Tabu is in cinemas now.

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