Despite a Rocky Middle, ‘Tabu’ Beautifully Captures the Pains of an Illicit Affair

Gabriella Tutino


Tabu, the Portuguese film directed by Miguel Gomes, tells the story of an illicit love affair set against the backdrop of the Portuguese Colonial War in 1950s-60s Africa. The film is shot in black-and-white and narrated for a majority of its running time, lending Tabu a romantic, nostalgic whimsy.


The movie starts with a short vignette, following the King of Portugal on an excursion in Africa. He is looking to lose himself in the pre-colonial African wildlands, running away from heartbreak. The man encounters a crocodile on his expedition and that’s where the vignette ends. The crocodile and the exoticism of Africa will become important to the central story in the film.


The movie then starts in two parts. Part One focuses on Pilar, a retired woman living in Lisbon. Pilar’s life is seemingly routine—she rents out her home to travelers, spends time with her artist friend, partakes in humanitarian protests and worries over her neighbor and neighbor’s aide, Aurora and Santa.


When Pilar finds out that Aurora is dying, she is asked to search for an old acquaintance, Gian Luca Ventura. This segues into Part Two, where Gian Luca reveals his shared past with Aurora. Both Santa and Pilar are shocked that “Aurora had a farm in Africa,” and that is where the real story begins. The title, Tabu, comes into play because Aurora lived near the base of Mount Tabu in Africa.


The tragic relationship between Aurora and Gian Luca begins a few years before the Portuguese Colonial War starts. It is triggered by an impromptu meeting, as Gian Luca is the friend of a friend of Aurora’s husband. This part of the movie pans out like a dream, silent except for the narration and the occasional musical accompaniment. It is not what was said in the past, but what happened between the lovers. It is a rollercoaster of a love, real and raw, that only ends in heartbreak.


The incident that starts their affair has to do with a missing crocodile from Aurora’s farm. When the crocodile Aurora’s husband gifted her first escapes, it ends up in Gian Luca’s garden. After the second escape, Aurora knows exactly where to find it. Time and time again, there are cinematic shots that focus on a random, crocodile. This animal is the symbol of their love and also provides and association with Africa.


But while also playing upon these ideas, the movie questions the morality of the affair. Most films and books will romanticize an affair to a degree; Tabu not only romanticizes it, but tears it apart. Although Aurora and Gian Luca completely succumb to their emotions and the affair, they are also shamed by it as well. Both parties feel it is a sin, and that what they had was a secret worth taking to the grave.


Still, Tabu is a beautiful movie with a storyline that moves along gracefully after a rocky middle.


Author Bio:
Gabrielle Tutino is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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I like your use of crocodile. 


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