Whilst preparing to film Tabu, director Miguel Gomes and cinematographer Rui Poças were acutely aware that this may well be their last chance to shoot a feature on celluloid – with the rising price of film stock, processing fees and the industry’s rapid conversion to digital formats making it less and less economically viable. With the death of the medium looming over them, Gomes and Poças seized this final opportunity, shooting their tale on luminous black-and-white film stock, in Academy aspect ratio, toying with the forms of early Hollywood cinema to craft an aesthetic drenched in melancholic nostalgia. This archaic aesthetic is apt for a film so preoccupied with the subjects of memory, loss, disappearing and death.
At a crucial moment, halfway through the narrative, as the action shifts from present-day Lisbon to 1950s colonial Africa, Gomes too switches from 35mm to 16mm film stock, changing the very substance of the filmed image. Crisp, defined compositions are replaced with grainy, dream-like pictures that offer some comment on the slipperiness of memory, indistinct and distorted over time. Here Gomes overtly incorporates the formats he’s shooting on into the storytelling process so that the very substance and texture of film becomes a character in itself.
We’re proud to be able to screen Tabu on the only English-subtitled 35mm print currently in existence, courtesy of distributor New Wave Films. Given the spirit of Gomes’ backwards-looking piece, so immersed in the language of early cinema, we feel it fitting to present the film in its original analogue form. Although the tradition of projecting film on celluloid film may well be passing, like the ghostly spectres and melancholic crocodiles that perpetuate Tabu, it is, for a while longer in our cinema at least, lingering on.
Watch the trailer below and book tickets for the opening weekend.
Tabu runs at the ICA until 20 September.