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Tabu: A Story of the South Seas Reviews

Page 1 of 3
Bob S

Super Reviewer

July 4, 2007
amazing cinematography, nice simple story
Eric B

Super Reviewer

March 29, 2010
The backstory of "Tabu" is more impressive than what appears on screen. Shot in Bora Bora with a cast of "South Sea Islanders and a few half-castes and Chinese," this 1931 silent does a remarkable job of choreographing untrained natives (grass skirts and all) into a cohesive story. There are no dialogue cards and, instead, crucial plot information is craftily delivered through shots of diary entries, ship logs and scrolls (luckily for us, the natives print in perfect block letters).

The plot is essentially an exotic version of "Romeo and Juliet." Seemingly in their late teens, Reri and Matahi are innocent lovers amid their idyllic community, spending their days dancing, swimming and fishing. But trouble comes when a ship docks offshore, carrying white men and representatives from a distant tribe. This tribe's religion apparently requires a sacred maiden to symbolize all that's good and righteous. She is "tabu" (we would say "taboo") and must remain absolutely pure and untouched -- not even the subject of desirous looks. The visiting chief, Hitu, announces that they need a new girl for this role, and their choice is Reri. This is a great honor. Reri is obligated to sail away with the ship, which naturally devastates her and Matahi.

Matahi and Reri sneak away in the night and sail to a more civilized, white-dominated island. There, they are welcomed into a fishing village where Matahi becomes renowned as a pearl diver. But the "tabu" curse follows them, and it's only a matter of time before the betrayed tribesmen track them down.

"Tabu" is only 85 minutes but still feels overlong. Its simple plot could have fit into an hour. The film was an unusual collaboration between F.W. Murnau (who tragically died a week before its premiere) and Robert Flaherty ("Nanook of the North"), and its picturesque choreography won Floyd Crosby (father of singer David Crosby) an Oscar. That trio's work is impeccable, but Hugo Riesenfeld's syrupy score is a bit alienating -- it gives the film the ambience of a dated Disney travelogue for kids. I kept expecting an avuncular narrator to enter, winking about how much fun the waterfall lagoon looks.
Over the Rising Sun
Over the Rising Sun

Super Reviewer

April 16, 2011
Has a very fresh feel to it. Saw this at #271 on a "Top 1000 Movies Ever" list and thought it'd be worth a look. It's essentially a poetic/naturalist/neorealistic retelling of Sunrise, if that makes any sense. In everyman terms- its simple, the performances are splendid, and F. W. Murnau delivers elegantly shot exotic local cinematography of waterfalls and jungles and native festivals, and the beauty comes from this simplicity. The ending made the movie for me. Not in the same league as Murnau's Faust or Nosferatu or Sunrise, since those are all haunting and strewn with shadows. More like a National Geographic program with a "star crossed lovers" storyline. Since it's a silent film, expect your interest to be eroded by slowness, but nevertheless it's worth seeing. 89/100
September 26, 2013
After the Great Depression, audiences needed a happy, upbeat tale of love on the south seas. Aw yeah.
October 5, 2012
Like "Sunrise," "Tabu" tells a simple love story, but F.W. Murnau trades expressionism for poetic ethnography, capturing rituals, lives and locations in Bora Bora. The film acknowledges modernity without rendering it a simplified evil. "Tabu" is also a truly visual experience, abandoning intertitles except for a few introductory passages and diegetic text. Floyd Crosby's cinematography stuns without showing off.
jam233
March 8, 2010
F.W. Murnau's last film is a brilliantly photographed story of a romance on the south seas island of Boru Boru. Touchingly made, engrossing still after 75 years. Simply filmed and the native cast do remarkable. This film is a piece of history.There is no other film quite like it. Innovative film making at its best.
magichelmet
September 17, 2007
A silent film about ill-fated lovers. Reri and Matahi are in love, but she is chosen by a priest to become the newest addition of the sacred virgins on another island, thereby making her tabu to all men. Great cinematography as well as the impressive lighting which gets progressively darker as the two desperately try to remain close. From what I understand, the islanders were not professionally trained; their acting comes off unnatural, simplistic, but at the same time this is the type of environment they're familiar with, and so it comes as no surprise that their interactions involving the environment are realistically portrayed.
August 28, 2013
One of the first films ever to be shot on location, in the gorgeous South Pacific, Tabu is a beautiful and tragic story that captures Polynesian life that at the time of its production was largely unknown to the western world. F.W. Murnau shows what a true film gem he was and it makes it all the more unfortunate that this was his last work, he died in a car crash that very prematurely ended his outstanding career.
ray
July 31, 2013
Die Tage durfte ich einem wunderbaren Ereignis beiwohnen: Das alljährliche Summer-Open-Air-Kino des Filmarchivs Austria bot ein Screening von F.W. Murnaus letztem Film Tabu an.
Ein Stummfilm, über 80 Jahre alt, und nicht wirklich einer seiner spektakulärsten oder bekanntesten Filme, war die Vorstellung dennoch gut besucht (ein Understatement: es war proppenvoll). Mein Vertrauen in die Menschheit ist wieder ein Stück gestiegen.

Live dabei, war ein Duo von indischen (?) oder zumindest asiatisch inspirierten Musikern, die weniger Musikbegleitung als Soundeffekte boten.
Unterlegt von stetem Meeresrauschen schufen die beiden eine eigenwillige Klangatmosphäre, die meinen Eindruck des Films wohl entscheidend prägte.

Tabu handelt von einem Liebespaar von Inselbewohnern in der Südsee, dass durch die Ernennung des Mädchens zu einer Art göttlichen Jungfrau auseinandergerissen wird. Das Mädchen ist nämlich von nun an Tabu".
Die beiden jungen Liebenden pfeifen jedoch auf diese Regeln und setzen sich per Boot auf eine andere Insel ab. Ihre Verfolger sind ihnen jedoch dicht auf den Fersen und so entbrennt eine Mischung aus Abenteuergeschichte und Romanze mit unzähligen kleinen Twists und Subplots.

Rein erzählerisch ist Murnau hier auf ausgetestetem Hollywoodniveau daheim, die Geschichte ist kitschig, etwas rassistisch und anti-feministisch, aber was soll's, das geniale an Murnau ist in diesem Fall nicht WAS für eine Geschichte er erzählt, sondern WIE er sie erzählt.

Mit beeindruckender Kamera (inklusive Unterwasseraufnahmen und expressionistischen Schattenspielen), und ohne Zwischentitel (in dieser Hinsicht schummelt er ein paar Mal mit Hilfe von Briefen) überlässt er es großteils den Bildern selbst seine Geschichte voranzutreiben.

Diese Fähigkeit goutiere ich sehr. Erstens, empfinde ich den übermäßigen Einsatz von Zwischentiteln in Stummfilmen ohnehin als störend (überhaupt wenn sie bloß Dialog beschreiben, was in Tabu Gott sei Dank nie vorkommt) und zweitens ist das Erzählen mittels Bildern, und Bildern allein, im heutigen Kino eine Seltenheit geworden (Tarkovsky ist ja leider auch schon seit einiger Zeit tot).

Auch beeindruckend fand ich die Erzählgeschwindigkeit (wohl bedingt durch die Absenz von Zwischentiteln), die sich durchaus mit modernen Filmen messen kann, und den Film leicht verträglich machte.

Zu Analysieren (psychologisch und interpretatorisch) gibt es in Tabu wohl weniger als in vergleichbaren hochgeschätzten Filmen des Regisseurs, handwerklich ist dieser letzte Film Murnaus Spitzenklasse. Er zeugt von der hohen Qualität, die die Stummfilmkunst Ende der 20er/Anfang der 30er erreicht hatte, und die im Tonfilm erst nach einigen Jahren wieder zu sehen war. Darüberhinaus, ist Tabu auch ein exzellentes Beispiel für die Merkmale und Besonderheiten des Stummfilms, die mit dem Ton verloren gingen. Murnau hat nie einen Tonfilm gemacht, und obwohl es sicherlich interessant gewesen wäre, einen solchen vom Meister zu sehen, liegen seine Qualitäten eindeutig im visuellen Gestalten - Murnau ist ein Bildermacher, ein Expressionist und deshalb auch ohne Ton sehr erfolgreich.
January 16, 2012
Murnau certainly had an eye for images, here found on Bora Bora and Tahiti, with amazing use of light and framing. Inspired by Flaherty, he uses an all native cast to tell a fabled story of paradise and paradise lost. Surprisingly for 1931 this is relatively noncondescending to the culture in focus (although certainly some aspects are dated). The fable is a simple story and the roles taken also require simplicity in outlook and action. In these symbolic roles, the boy and girl and the sinister leader, Hitu, are all excellent -- only the shark seems fake. Murnau keeps the pace moving along and the viewer is sure to be wowed.
Over the Rising Sun
Over the Rising Sun

Super Reviewer

April 16, 2011
Has a very fresh feel to it. Saw this at #271 on a "Top 1000 Movies Ever" list and thought it'd be worth a look. It's essentially a poetic/naturalist/neorealistic retelling of Sunrise, if that makes any sense. In everyman terms- its simple, the performances are splendid, and F. W. Murnau delivers elegantly shot exotic local cinematography of waterfalls and jungles and native festivals, and the beauty comes from this simplicity. The ending made the movie for me. Not in the same league as Murnau's Faust or Nosferatu or Sunrise, since those are all haunting and strewn with shadows. More like a National Geographic program with a "star crossed lovers" storyline. Since it's a silent film, expect your interest to be eroded by slowness, but nevertheless it's worth seeing. 89/100
David H.
November 29, 2009
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's last Movie is a great Melodrama and a realistic Portrait of the Native Tahitian Society!!! Exellent Cinematography & Beautiful Music!!!
Chris D.
October 12, 2010
A well shot movie that really could have used more titles with dialog: the movie only had dialog through letters and signposts, with the characters miming otherwise. The world of Tabu is incredible, however, a Polynesian paradise. The story is very dark and is a classic case of star-crossed lovers. I suppose the ending shouldn't have surprised me, but it felt very blunt and unsatisfying. It would have been nice if Murnau had taken some further time for an aftermath of "The Girl"'s life. I especially enjoyed the opening as an exposition of native life on the islands, as well as the boy that helps cheer up "The Boy".
jazza923
March 8, 2010
81/100. F.W. Murnau's last film is a brilliantly photographed story of a romance on the south seas island of Boru Boru. Touchingly made, engrossing still after 75 years. Simply filmed and the native cast do remarkable. This film is a piece of history.There is no other film quite like it. Innovative film making at its best.
Kurosawa Fan
April 21, 2006
Everyone should read Bukowski and then see the documentary. Pretty amazing stuff.

Chicken Little was the worst animated children's film I've seen since Shark Tale.
robo
January 14, 2005
Interesting movie mostly due to the location it was shot in. Couldn't connect emotionally with any of the characters.
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