In modern-day Lisbon, an elderly woman, Aurora (Laura Soveral), suffers from dementia as well as an addiction to gambling. She occasionally accuses her taciturn maid, Santa (Isabel Cardoso), of witchcraf. Her neighbor, Pilar (Teresa Madruga), seems to be the only person who can be considered a friend. Pilar attends U.N. protests and rejects the flirtations of a painter, Mario (Manuel Mesquita). When Aurora ends up in the hospital, she calls for Pilar to have her locate and contact her old flame, Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo), whom she hasn't seen for many years. Gian Luca tells Pilar and Santa the story of how he had met Aurora. Fifty years earlier, Aurora (now played by Ana Moreira), lived on an ostrich farm located at the foothill of Mount Tabu in Africa with her husband (Ivo Muller). She had a steamy love affair with Gian Luca (now played by Carloto Cotta).
Writer/director Miguel Gomes and co-writer Mariana Ricardo have woven a very sophisticated, lyrical and quietly moving drama that consists of two chapters. The first, titled "A Lost Paradise," takes place in Lisbon; the second chapter, called "Paradise," takes place in Africa. Gomes and Ricardo should be commended for taking narrative and aesthetic risks because, first and foremost, Tabu is filmed in black-and-white. Secondly, the second chapter is essentially silent; its only spoken words are those of the narrator. Both chapters feel absorbing and provocative, but it's the second chapter that finds just the right balance between provoking you intellectually as well as emotionally. The filmmakers also take risks by trusting that your intelligence and leaving a lot for your own interpretation. It's a testament to their impeccable skills at storytelling and filmmaking that they avoid turning Tabu into an exhausting film. Many of the scenes move as a leisurely pace which helps you to relax, to give you time to immerse yourself in the gorgeous visuals, and to ponder the film's many subtleties and nuances. Patient and intelligent audience members will be the most rewarded by watching Tabu.