Miguel Gomes / Portugal/Germany/Brazil/France / 2012 / 118 min
As unending conflicts and woeful financial scandals bring nothing but feelings of senselessness, disillusionment has perhaps become expected. Miguel Gomes’ innovative new drama envelops his story of forbidden love in a subconscious belief in the same futility of our actions.
Part One (Paradise Lost) follows elderly Lisbonites, Pilar (Teresa Madruga) and Aurora (Laura Soveral), as they sullenly talk about families, acquaintances and their current situation in 2011’s closing days. Part Two (Paradise) travels back 50 years to colonial Africa, spotlighting young Aurora’s (Ana Moreira) extramarital courtship of Gian Luca Ventura (Carloto Cotta).
By opening non-sequentially with Paradise Lost‘s gloomy atmosphere (protest demonstration, absent guest and global crises, complemented by extended close-ups of weary faces), Gomes casts a despondent shadow upon both Paradise and the audience. Even in Paradise’s high tempo moments, a whiff of acquiescence for their dreary fates wafts between the characters, keeping the pace ponderously taut. Originally two separate stories, Gomes’ downy comparison between a cheerless Westernised present and a romanticised fictional location in the past should feel contradictory, but through the uniting desperation of his characters, he exposes their similarities; life always has troubles and you can’t wait for them to pass.
The use of black and white and narration over muted action harks back to tragic romances like Casablanca and Laura but also acts as a metaphor for a world sieved of its glossy up-beat façade. Gomes’ decision to set Paradise during Africa’s fight for racial autonomy comments that no matter how damaged life appears, things have been worse. So while Tabu is outwardly melancholic, it’s profusion of hardships actually translates into the rousing sentiment; we must struggle forwards despite the challenges. In his swirl of entrancing cinematic devices, Gomes is telling us to persevere in living our own life.
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