In part homage to F. W. Murnau’s film of the same name, Portuguese melodrama Tabu is a film split into two halves which revolve around a Portuguese woman who grew up in Africa and grew old in Lisbon. Shot on actual film and in a narrow 1.37:1 aspect the film exudes an air of the silent era which is doubled with a second act which features no spoken dialogue. Instead of traditional dialogue or even old style intertitles the audience is treated to a narration from an older version of one of the central characters. The second act isn’t totally silent though as background noise of the African bush can be heard while the characters are muted. It is a brave film making decision but works to great effect. Tabu takes some time to get into and will be an instant turn off to many (including me) but once I got into it and especially once I reached Part 2, I was hooked by its enduring story, picturesque setting and exquisite style.
The film opens with an enigmatic prologue set in Africa and telling the story of star crossed lovers. This beautiful opening also introduces a crocodile which goes on to have further significance later on. Unlike the two main sections of the film, this opening could be timeless. There are hints of an early colonial setting but the way it is filmed gives it an eternal feel.