Wednesday, May 22, 2013

12. Miguel Gomes - Tabu

Tabu is a film from 2012 by the Portuguese director Miguel Gomes that is structured in direct reference to F. W. Murnau's 1931 silent film of the same name. It is, in a word or two, a sublime representation of the Portuguese ethos. In personal conversation, the words 'caricature' and 'camp' were raised when talking about its representational modality, but if either of these words are to be accurately attributed to the film, they must be conceived in a radically different aesthetic from their traditional associations.

The film is broken into three parts with their respective epochs and distinctive styles, though all are claimed to take place before the Portuguese Colonial War. The entire film is articulated in what was described to me as a populist intellectualism, which synthesizes the paradox between words and things into an ambiguous and discomforting whole. The film begins with a soliloquy narrated over a Portuguese explorer traveling through the jungle with a band of indigenous people. If it is impossibile, as it is claimed, to translating the Portuguese word saudade into English, this brief scene is able to successfully communicate the significance of the word's concept by joining its representation with its origin. As opposed to the typical filmic technique of montage and indirect allusion, it could be said that this form of poetic hyper-representation reaches the sublimity of the idea, extending beyond the word or its definition through using other impossible-to-define words such as melancholy or nostalgia, to a cultural and historical context in which the word was birthed simply to give name to an existant force.

'Paradise Lost' is the name given to the second part and depicts the relation between three women living in Lisbon. Gomes inverts Murnau's form by not only presenting the future before its historical antecedent, but by showing the forms of life that emerge within the urban context of the colonizers, as opposed to the colonies. But this is not to say that the oppressive nature of colonization is not felt, but it is sublated into the characters interpersonal relationality of power, obedience, trust, command and expectation, resulting in a profound meditation on the subtle metaphysics of slavery. The final segment, 'Paradise', is an explicitly mythical narrative that depicts the early life of the chief agonist of 'Paradise Lost', Aurora, in the African plains surrounding Tabu Mountain. Young and pregnant, she starts an illicit affair with a friend of her husband's, Gian-Luca; strongly discontent with her life, Aurora and the man plan to run away together, during which she goes into labor as they are confronted by a mutual friend who is shot after trying to stop them in their plans. After Aurora's husband is sent for, the two never see each other again. The murder is fallaciously claimed by a insurgent nationalist group that is used to propagandize and initiate the Portuguese Colonial War.

What was perhaps most powerful about Tabu as a filmic experience is its ability to create situations of absolute ethical ambiguity; if the question "is this (un)ethical?" is to be asked about specific details, an answer would be effectively stifled. Furthermore, if a specific gesture or speech act was to be declared as unethical for the purpose of a thought experiment, an operative solution would be conjecturally impossible to find. To ethically think that history is a problem that can be fixed is perhaps an ethical problem in-and-of itself.


Under the rain and scorching sun,
a melancholic creature
treks through jungles
and arid lands for months.
In the heart of the black continent,
neither beasts nor cannibals
seem to frighten
the intrepid explorer.
Followed by a contingent of men
carrying beads fabrics
and modern
scientlfic expedition tools.
The group includes in its ranks
His Majesty the King of Portugal,
or at least his will,
as expressed in a royal decree,
and He who is above
who all creatures call Creator,
and whose voice lives in the Bible.
But even if his legs move forward
by superior will
sovereign or divine
the heart, the most insolent
muscle of all anatomy,
dictates other reasons for the march.
Poor miserable man!
This whimsical organ
rules over both King and the Eternal.
So we here by reveal
the true law of this expedition
to roam the ends of the world
walking away from the land where he saw
his beloved wife perish,
as if he could ever stop death.
Intrepid he is,
but out of desperation.
Taciturn and melancholic,
the sad flgure wannders desolately
over thne inhospitable planes.
And by mysteries unknown,
he is visited from afar by the one
whom his heart begs for,
- oh morbid detail! 
the dress that hugged her
when she returned to dust.

You may run as far as you can,
for as long as you like,
but you will not escape your heart.

Then I will die.

You sad and poor soul.

A crocodile awaits its moment,
submerged in murky waters.
The intrepid explorer is well aware
he will meet his destiny in this river.
His men witness the horror.
The explorer bids farewell to life.
Night falls in the savannah,
as will a thousand and one more.
Then and ever since,
despite how absurd this may sound
to men of reason
some swear to have witnessed
this ghoulish sight:
a sad and melancholic crocodile
with a lady from days gone by, 
an inseparable pair
united by a mysterious pact
never broken by death.

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