Tabu: A Story of the South Seas - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas Reviews

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½ June 3, 2016
Tabu is glorious, full of sparkling, radiant images that feel like heaven on earth, even in its beautifully heart-breaking conclusion.
April 12, 2016
"Tabu" has a very simple storyline but manages to achieve classic status for being innovative, beautifully made and quite moving too. The acting by the non-professional locals is very convincing and moves the story forward, while the appearances of Hitu and the scenes with the shark (underwater footage ftw) are surprisingly suspenseful. Particularly well-written it is not, yet the resonant alternation between beautiful and tragic running through the entire film elevates it to compelling viewing.
May 22, 2015
A frustratingly simple documentary/narrative film about those who inhabited the south seas & their fear of native woman Tabu.

Filmed authentically on location it simply lacked impact & engagement & considering the depth his other films had I was surprised this was so highly praised.

Will appeal to people connected to the South Seas & those who love that locale but I found myself struggling to keep in engaged at all:
May 3, 2015
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) - 7,5

Last work from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. Just like Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, this is a love archetype promoting a universal message. The story unravels within the seed of a tribal community inhabiting Bora Bora, a remote island in French Polinesia. Matahi and Reri ride against forces of higher power within the tribe to preserve their love bond. The resistance is stretched to the limits of what is humanly possible hereby sentencing their tale to a tragic fate.

This movie is so engaging that it's easy forget that one is seeing a docufiction. As is hallmark of this genre, it's not possible to separate reality from fiction in what is partly a real documentation of the people of Bora Bora and their culture. All the characters are the real tribal natives and chinese living in the region. By virtue of which Tabu invokes a different kind of allure from Sunrise's. The idyllic landscape, the tribal rituals and the close contact with nature contrast with the modern world of Sunrise, and craft a rawer and a potentially more nostalgic experience.

But ultimately, Tabu doesn't have the impact of a timeless masterpiece like Sunrise. That monumental dreamlike enchantment of Sunrise is missing from Tabu. This is a slightly more earthen and dry experience. In any case, Tabu has great poetic beauty and emotional power. The top-notch camera work and cinematography earned Floyd Crosby an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, while the archetypal performance as Reri launched Anne Chevalier's acting career for the following years. This beautiful work of silent cinema was homaged by Miguel Gomes in 2012 with his homonymous film which I highly enjoyed. Recommended!
April 26, 2015
filmed on location in Tahiti.
½ September 26, 2013
After the Great Depression, audiences needed a happy, upbeat tale of love on the south seas. Aw yeah.
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.
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.
October 7, 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.
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.
Super Reviewer
November 12, 2011
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.
½ October 18, 2011
Another wonderful silent from Murnau. His visual sensibility is unmatched, the camera so expressive. This is no more true than in the final shot of Matahi in the ocean. Further, the use of light (esp. moonlight) and shadow, as well as the sequences involving dance and ritual, bring a great deal of feeling and weight to the proceedings. Finally, the visual contrast between the film's two halves underlines the film's moral sensibility--sunny and natural in the former, dark and seedy in the latter.
July 26, 2011
A beautiful looking and sounding (although it's 'silent') film, Murnau's last.
Super Reviewer
June 25, 2011
For me it was a unique cinematic experience even thought I had doubts about this silence film. But this surviving work of director F.W. Murnau remains some of the most significant and stunning of the silent era. Filmed entirely in Tahiti, `Tabu' would prove to be Murnau's last film (he died in a tragic car accident just weeks before the film's premiere) and most unusual - he actually collaborated with director Robert Flaherty in this tale of two doomed lovers that unintentionally transports `Romeo and Juliet' into the South Pacific. Unlike his landmark expressionist titles such as `Nosferatu' and `Faust,' Murnau's `Tabu' is set mostly outdoors and features dazzling images of beautiful young native men and women at home in their Polynesian paradise in the first part of the film, with haunting images used to chronicle tragedy and paradise lost in the second half of the 81 minute classic.
Over the Rising Sun
Super Reviewer
½ April 24, 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
½ April 20, 2011
Has the wordless eloquence and fluidity of the best silent cinema - it may, in fact, be the last notable instance of "pure" cinema before things got talky, and how fortunate Murnau was, in a way, to pass on before he was obliged to compromise his images with chatter. (If you were a real, Thomson-ish stick-in-the-mud, you might see the whole film, and not just its second half, as a paradise lost.) As for Flaherty, well, at a moment when cinema was still essentially an expanding cottage industry, his contribution may have been on the production side: to make credible and feasible the idea of shooting with locals in exotic, far-flung climes. "Tabu"'s authenticity resides not specifically in its narrative (which is self-evidently a construction, a legend that may or may not have been passed down from one generation to the next), nor indeed its mise-en-scene (though there's a definite sense these characters are inhabiting actual places, and not sets). Rather, it lies in performance: these boys and girls look like they know *exactly* what they're doing in climbing palm trees, sliding down waterfalls, or rowing conicles out to sea.
February 28, 2011
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's last Movie is a great Melodrama and a realistic Portrait of the Native Tahitian Society!!! Exellent Cinematography & Beautiful Music!!!
½ November 22, 2010
A mindblowing silent film, with a cast and crew existing entirely out of native islanders, exceptions being the two directors. With disarming natural performances, and a wonderfully evocative soundtrack, this movie - which I honestly found to sound dull as a brick on sight - is really something special.

I sincerely doubt it could be made better by adding sound.
½ November 3, 2010
F.W. Murnau was so ahead of his time. Here he teamed with filmmaker extraordinaire Robert J. Flaherty (Nanook of The North) for this exotic love story set (and shot on location) in Tahiti. It can be a little disorienting to follow but overall the effect of this silent stunner is dazzling, a sad reminder of what a magnificent filmmaker Murnau was.
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