It’s not often that the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club viewers are so strongly divided over a film, but that’s what happened following the screening of the Portuguese film Tabu (2012). Our host for the evening was Pat Pickering who had the rather dubious task of introducing the unfamiliar work of 40-year-old Miguel Gomes. She started by telling her curious audience that this was Gomes third feature film, his best known was probably This Beloved Month of August (2008), which won the Portuguese Golden Globe and was released via London in January 2010 apparently disappearing into obscurity in the rest of the UK.
Using the same cinematographer his latest film won a prize for Artistic Innovation at the Berlin Film Festival with Pat describing it as a movie about love, passion, friendship and betrayal. Shoot in both 35mm and 16 mm black and white film stock its divided into a prologue and two segments, in the first segment, ‘Lost Paradise’ we encounter a chilly depressing modern day Lisbon where we find a lonely middle aged spinster Pilar who is concerned about her elderly neighbour Aurora in the early stages of dementia and is being looked after by her African maid Santa. When Aurora is hospitalised she asks Pilar to fetch Gian Luca Ventura an elderly resident at an old peoples home. For the second part of the film, ‘Paradise’ we return in time to a 1960’s unnamed Portuguese African colony (actually filmed in Mozambique) where Gian Luca narrates a tragic story of Aurora’s complete disregard for the sanctity of marriage that has been kept hidden for 50 years.
Returning after the break the audience, as I have previously intimated was divided over the merits of Gomes’s film with, I believe, the majority disliking the film for various reasons. As normal some of the reasons for admiring the film are the same as these for disliking it! The 4:3 aspect, the fact that other than the voice over the second segment was dialogue free and that the whole thing was shot in black and white, which in the first segment was sharp and clear, but the second part, shot in 16mm, was dull, flat and grainy.
The main problems with this film was that it was tedious and by the end of the film it felt like you had been wading through a thick quagmire for two hours. The prologue seemed only to be included to give the film a tag line ‘You cannot escape your heart’ It was totally humourless and impossible to empathise with any of the characters; you really did not care what happened to any of them. Pat had said that it was the director’s intention to make an interesting film, but I’m afraid this melodrama failed. It did prove however that it was possible to make an art house film that was too art house. For another example see The Turin Horse (2011) a far better non-dialogue film is Le Quattro Volte (2010), which is also spit into segments but works perfectly and is a joy to watch.
Incidentally there were a couple of points of interest raised during the discussion. Aurora is supposed to have been a technical adviser on an imaginary Hollywood movie called It Will Never Snow again Over Kilimanjaro, could Gomes have been referring to the 1952 film starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner and based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway called The Snows of Kilimanjaro? Another cinematic reference is German film director FW Murnau's 1931 film of the same name, which according to Gomes, he used to give it a connection with silent film. Murnau’s film is also split into two chapters, the first called "Paradise and the second chapter, "Paradise Lost.
Although it may not always be possible to like the film on offer it still makes for a great evening when a lively disscussion follows.