Languid, noirish ‘Tabu’ blends romantic drama, visual beauty

Tabu/2012/Adopt Films/118 min.

“I was interested in characters we don’t usually meet in films, female characters with distinguishing temperaments and peculiarities” says Portuguese director Miguel Gomes of his film “Tabu.”

Indeed, the finely drawn yet ordinary characters are what drive the story in this languid, sometimes lyrical, film with a neo-noir love triangle at its core. “Tabu” starts slowly, introducing us to newly retired and somewhat restless Pilar (Teresa Madruga) and Santa (Isabel Cardoso), a maid to the elderly Aurora (Laura Soveral), who asks to see a mysterious man from her past once more before she dies.

Her request spurs an exploration of the dramatic life she led and the memorable men she charmed (Ivo Müller and Carloto Cotta) 50 years ago on a colonial farm in Africa, at the foothill of Mount Tabu. (Ana Moreira plays young Aurora.)

The flashback deftly mixes poetry, rock ’n’ roll, amour, adultery and, of course, societal taboos in a compelling and ultimately poignant yarn. By the end, we know Aurora, and the people around her, past and present.

Shot in black and white (35 mm for the first part, 16 mm for the second), “Tabu” has been snaring international awards for its unique blend of romantic drama and visual beauty. Though its unhurried pacing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Gomes’ “Tabu” rewards the patient viewer.

“Tabu” opens today at Laemmle’s Royal in West LA and Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.

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