Tabu – Director Miguel Gomes has crafted something very special with Tabu, perhaps the best film of the Edinburgh Festival so far. It is a film about lost love, about selfishness and selflessness, about regret and the moments we wish could take back.
Split into two parts, Tabu revolves around the lives of two women. The first chapter, entitled “Paradise” is set in the present day and focuses on Maria, a kindly older woman who frets about her neighbours, an elderly woman named Aurora, and her maid, called Santa. A passionate activist, Maria is selfless in her desire to help others. From keeping company with an artist whose work she doesn’t particularly like, to baking food for Aurora, she is fully devoted to others.
As Aurora, a gambler who has clearly been abandoned by her family, edges closer to death, she begins to rant about her life in Africa, to the disbelief of both Maria and Santa. On her death-bed she asks that they track down a man called Ventura and ask him to come to her. While Maria locates the elderly gentleman, Aurora passes away before seeing him.
Following the funeral Ventura recounts to the two women the passionate affair that he and Aurora had when she lived in Mozambique, and the tragic events that brought it to an end. This flashback encompasses the second half of the film, entitled “Paradise Lost”.
It is difficult to talk in detail about what makes Tabu so great, without spoiling the surprise. Shot in stark black and white, the film mixes perspectives and is playful about its narrative. The realism of the first half is abandoned for the second half of the film, which is told completely in voiceover.
While in many films this would seem jarring change of pace, in Tabu it works. When trying to find out about the life of Aurora, we are presented with what we see when she was alive, and the viewpoint of a man who knew her decades ago. It is up to us to put the pieces together.
Yet even in this we can see that Aurora and Maria contrast one another – Aurora may have been abandoned and her final days tragic, but in committing a whole host of selfish actions, she experienced true love. Maria on the other hand is almost achingly looking for companionship, but perhaps in part due to her nature, leads an unfilled life.
In the wider context Tabu is also about Portugal and its relationship to colonialism. In a prologue, we are told of a story about an explorer in Africa searching for the soul of his lover. Following him are native assistants, who help him through the territory, until one day he is eaten by a crocodile. The subsequent two sections of Tabu help to encapsulate the theme of discovery, colony and post colony that is systematic in many former European empires.
This is not a complex film – at its heart is about forbidden love, the taboo by which the film playfully takes its name. But it is an engrossing one, full of little moments that stay with you, such as the party hosted by a man who, starts shooting at people when he wants to it come to an end, or the rock band which Ventura plays with.
Tabu has a delicate, and at times slow pace, but the visual style, and the almost silent film performances of the actors in the second half stealthily draw you in.It is a rich experience, and is simply beautiful to look at.
When people describe cinema as transporting you to another place, they are talking about films such as Tabu. This is destined to be one of the greats.
King of Pigs – Sadly the same cannot be said of King of Pigs, a South Korean anime that not only is hilariously dark, but had the single worst subtitles I have seen on a film since the early 1990s.
Businessman Kyung-Min and wannabe writer Jong-Suk, old school friends, meet for the first time in decades, and over dinner, recount their experiences at the hands of bullies. The film flashes back and shows the tightly controlled regime of the school room, where prefects imposed order and an almost feudal system is in place. No pupil is allowed to be seen as too smart, or too difficult, newcomers are soon beaten into submission.
Kyung-Min and Jong-Suk long suffering under this system, find help in the shape of Chul, a disturbed, violent classmate, unafraid of beatings and capable of holding his own against the bullies.
As Chul becomes ever more frustrated about the system, a plan is hatched to shock the school to the core. In the present day we find out the role both Kyung-Min and Jong-Suk played in these events, and the terrible secrets they carry with them.
If you think this sounds like an interesting film, then please let me assure you – it isn’t. King of Pigs is an utterly miserable experience, and one which has a pretty awful view of the impact that bulling has on people’s lives. While there is of course room for boundary pushing ideas, I had no idea who to root for. Every character is pretty much horrible, and as such I felt no connection with the events on screen. By the end, after so much misery there is a hilarious final line that makes the whole thing seem to have been conjured up by an angry 15 year old with aspirations of poetry.
But who knows, maybe I have misjudged this film? The subtitles weren’t helping me. In the state I saw King of Pigs, it is simply not releasable. At times I simply had no idea what the characters were saying. Words were jumbled, other words thrown in made no sense to the context of the conversation, and it continued to get worse as the film went on.
That the Festival was asking people to pay money to see a broken film, was something of a black mark against the week. Until a suitable translation is presented, this review can only be seen in the context of what was understood. However it is unlikely that King of Pigs will be toppled as the worst film experience of the Festival.
Borrowed Time – A low budget British film set in and around an estate? The very sentence usually finds people running to the hills, trying to escape the inevitable misery of it all. And it is for this very reason that Borrowed Time is such a wonderful surprise.
Theo Barklem-Biggs (perhaps best known to mainstream audiences as the weird loner in last year’s The Inbetweeners Movie) plays Kevin, a slightly dim, but good natured kid, who has the occasional habit of taking things that don’t belong to him. One of those things was a family heirloom which he pawned off.
Given an offer to make some money to buy the heirloom back, Kevin agrees to move some drugs for local gangster Nigel (Warren Brown) a martial arts fanatic, who also has deep rooted anger issues. The deal doesn’t go as planned and as such Kevin finds himself five hundred pounds in debt, and trying to hide from the mother of all beatings.
Into his life enters Philip (Philip Davis) an elderly man, who lives alone and does taxidermy as a hobby. After initial distrust, the two come to bond, as the nun-chuck wielding psycho looms large over their lives.
This is a sweet, funny and downright charming film. Barklem-Biggs gives a superb central performance as the hapless Kevin, and his well-timed comedic skills brought a genuine smile to my face. Veteran actor Phil Davis is always good value, and he really sells his character as a slightly lost soul, looking for a connection.
The other notable standout is Juliet Oldfield, playing Kevin’s long suffering sister. On paper it might have seemed like a thankless role, but Oldfield gives the character a quiet dignity and steel. She is trying to make a better life, and when she threatens another character you believe that she could rip them apart.
With Borrowed Time, writer/director Jules Bishop has shown there is still life in the mirco-budget British film yet. A promising career awaits him.