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Miguel Gomes’s Tabu

Still from Miguel Gomes’s Tabu, 2012, 16 mm and 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 118 minutes. Left: Young Ventura (Carlota Cotta).

Every landscape is located nowhere.

—Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

AN UNPREPOSSESSING WHITE MAN—bearded, wearing a pith helmet, and identified as a “melancholic creature”—stands alone in the bush at the center of the screen. Where is he? Where are we? A woman materializes—a projection of the nowhere-man’s past. African tribesmen watch as the explorer stands by the riverbank and (offscreen) jumps in to be devoured (also offscreen) by crocodiles, so we’re told. Cut to a frenzy of tribal dancing possibly cribbed from a 1930s travelogue, followed by a nocturnal shot of a “sad crocodile,” jaws agape, lying in the grass near, a camera pan reveals, the mysterious woman “from days gone by.” Finally, we see a solitary female spectator in a near-empty movie house. Thus begins Tabu.

The third feature by Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes, Tabu is so filled with

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