Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Miguel Gomes' stodgy, homage-y TABU opens at Film Forum: Of croc and schlock

I am guessing that the work of Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes (previous output: four shorts, the widely heralded Our Beloved Month of August and his earlier The Face You Deserve) is an acquired taste. On the basis of his latest film, TABU, TrustMovies feels that he has not quite yet made that acquisition. Evidently a kind of homage to the work of early movie-maker F. W. Murnau -- even the poster images (the current film's is shown above, the older one's below) have a certain similarity -- Gomes' newest creation provides a not uninteresting combination of colonial critique (Portugal in Africa), forbidden love, the past and the present, and both old-fashioned and somewhat newfangled black-and-white cinematography.

But it all seems finally rather precious and not, I am afraid, that entertaining. At just under two hours, the film does go on. And as it does, the little life, mostly derived from the first half, set in modern day, drains out. The second half tells what ought to be a more interesting story of the love affair between the younger versions of the old woman and man we meet in part one.

But the filmmaker, shown at right, loves to dawdle and diddle, and so getting there, as they say, takes some time. Along the way, we're given story upon story that connect via countries and landscape (the jungle, the African plains and especially crocodiles, see below) that figure into just about every-thing concerning the past and in the dreams our char-acters have in the present.

We also get an early rock band from the period and some accompanying songs that are fun to hear again. While there is a certain "beauty" in much of the goings-on and in the often lovely black-and-white cinematography, the connections that would make for drama are so tenuous that little feeling for anyone or anything is generated. Some critics have called this "brilliantly nuanced," "mind-bending and utterly mysterious," but for me the result produced more than a whiff of... call it kitsch, schlock or camp, that made it impossible to take anything here all that seriously.

I wasn't bored by Tabu (I nodded off for a few seconds only once!) and I found myself taken with some of the characters: the cranky old woman (Laura Soveral, in photo at bottom) whom we see as a younger semi-femme fatale in Part Two; her kindly, ineffective neighbor Pilar (Teresa Madruga), shown below, at the cinema on a semi-date with a fellow who looks a bit like a sleeping Sondheim. If you were so inclined, you could call this one a semi-movie.

Also worth a look is the male lead in Part Two, Carloto Cotta (shown below and on poster, top, with Ana Moreira), as the youn-ger version of the old man we meet at the end of Part One. He is a stunner whose great beauty of face, body and hands ensures that the second section moves, if not quickly, more enjoyably.

So, yes, there are a number of things that make Tabu a forbidden pleasure. If only Mr. Gomes had been able to see that they coalesce more effectively. To my great surprise, the film has popped up on a 10-best list or two, which should at least ensure some kind of audience here in New York City.

To that end, the movie, an Adopt Films release, opens tomorrow, Wednesday, December 26, at New York's Film Forum for a two-week run. So see what you think, New Yorkers. To view all upcoming playdates around the country, click Adopt's web site here, then click on FILMS and then on TABU.

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