Miguel Gomes, director of Tabu - interview
The film has marked the director out as a major new voice in international cinema
A senile woman in contemporary Lisbon who runs away to the casino whenever she gets the chance; a secret, destructive love affair that unravels in 60s colonial Africa; and a pet crocodile that keeps on escaping from its enclosure: these are the unusual ingredients for Miguel Gomes’ distinctive film Tabu, one of the most talked about fi lms of this year’s Berlin Film Festival where it premiered last February.
The second feature by the Portuguese director has been described as idiosyncratic, highly inventive and quite frankly eccentric, perhaps the result of Gomes’ ability to accumulate material which later manifests itself in his work. ‘I think I am like a collector,’ the director explains. ‘There are some things that stay with me, they can be stories that someone told me or songs or people I know who I have the desire to film ... but at the beginning I’m just collecting all these things and I don’t know that altogether it will make a film.’
In the case of Tabu inspiration came from two unexpected sources. The first was a story told to Gomes by a family member about a neighbour who believed her African maid was a witch. The second was hearing the memories of a Portuguese band (who featured in his debut, Our Beloved Month of August) who used to play in Mozambique in the 60s. The two stories would go on to influence the unique format of Tabu that in some ways can be described as two films in one. The first set in modern day Portugal is about a retired woman, Pilar, and her paranoid neighbour, Aurora, who believes her Cape Verdian maid is practicing voodoo on her. When Aurora is taken to hospital she requests that Pilar track down a man from Aurora’s past named Ventura. When they find him he has a remarkable story to tell about the time that he and Aurora lived in Africa at the foot of Mount Tabu. The second part of the film is Ventura’s story as he remembers it, a bewitching, dialogue-free melodrama drawing on the style of silent film.
The two parts come together in a glorious juxtaposition, offering intellectual nourishment on ideas of memory and loss,as well as Portugal’s colonial past, or in Gomes’ words ‘things that disappear and that only exist in memory’.
Tabu is on selected release from Fri 7 Sep.