Review: ‘Tabu’

A strong love story in a South Seas background, with South Sea natives rather than regular actors.

A strong love story in a South Seas background, with South Sea natives rather than regular actors.

The title, Tabu, means death. It’s the fate that hangs over the romantic leads who flee from a distant isle and its barbaric customs after a girl has been handed over to Tabu, ruler of one of the islands, as ‘the chosen one’. Along with her goes the dictum, ‘no man must touch her or cast eyes of desire upon her’.

Matahi rescues the girl, Reri, from a schooner at the propitious moment, just as she is to be taken away. They flee to an island that flourishes in the pearl trade and has been penetrated to a greater extent by white men. Here Matahi becomes famous as a pearl diver, but finally Tabu turns up to claim the girl, threatening the Tabu sign (or death) on Matahi if she doesn’t come along with him.

About 90% of the footage is devoted to the romantic leads, their happiness, troubles, heartaches, etc. Against this, there is a little native life – fishing, diving, waterfalls, mode of living, etc, as was brought but to a far greater extent in Moana.

Tabu is a silent, with synchronization and sound effects, but difficult to figure out whether some of the effects and the singing, as well as native music, were dubbed over or not.

1930/31: Best Cinematography

Tabu

Production

Paramount. Director F.W. Murnau; Producer Robert J. Flaherty, F.W. Murnau; Screenplay Robert J. Flaherty, F.W. Murnau; Camera Floyd Crosby, Robert J. Flaherty; Music Hugo Riesenfeld

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1931. Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Reri Matahi Hitu Jean Jules Kong Ah
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