“Paradise” and “paradise lost”
30/03/2012 - After the Cannes buzz of Our Beloved Month of August [trailer] in 2008, Portuguese director Miguel Gomes saw his third feature Tabu [trailer, film focus] competing for the Golden Bear at the 62nd Berlinale. Highlights from the press conference follow.
How influential were German silent films to you, Murnau’s in particular?
Miguel Gomes: I am not intending to reference films very often. It just turns out that they are somewhere in my subconscious. I have seen a cycle of Murnau films on the Portuguese State television back when I was younger – which would be inconceivable nowadays. But the aim, in this film, was not to have references to specific Murnau films. I want to tell a story for itself. I don’t want to be closed off or to exclude the people who do not get the references. I think Murnau was a great film-maker. If you have a heart you cannot fail to be moved by his films.
In Tabu, you play with exotic elements from the 1930s. There seems to be an idealization of exoticism, but you also criticize colonialism. Why did you make this contrast?
Colonialism and exoticism can coexist. I don’t think you have to try to set an example or try to demonstrate that colonialism is bad. You don’t have to set out with that kind of thesis. When I was working on this film, I got to know some people who had a band in Mozambique. They told me that they had a very close link to their land. They made comments that I did not in any way agree on political terms, but they also describe what they have been through there. That provoked a very strong emotional reaction in me. And that emotional reaction is one you can have wherever you are from and whatever political system you have been through.
I also believe that there are certain things which are typically related to youth. And that is one of the reasons for the structure of the film. The film is about old age, but it is also about youth. It is about loneliness in opposition to the possibility of love… As in many silent films - in Murnau’s too - what is established is very often a strong contrast, a dichotomy: "Paradise" and "Paradise Lost", in my film. I did want to establish that opposition.
In the second part, there is a love story and there is also a story of its time. You can implicitly criticize the society of that time and also colonial regime. Pregnancy is a symbol of the demographic bomb that is going to explode. There are events that are on the way, that are going through various stages to their until they reach their natural conclusion. You can say that about colonialism. And you can say that about the love story between two people, which is doomed to failure…
How did you direct your actors?
We worked with the actors in different ways in part one an in part two. In part one we had a script and rehearsed for several months. In part two we did something that I thought it was lot of fun, which was throw the script in the bin. I particularly have to thank the actors in part two because it was a rather ungrateful task for them. They had a broad outline of what was going on: they had a vague idea of a love story; they knew there was a sort of romantic crocodile, they knew how the story was going to end but they didn’t know exactly what they were doing. It required great trust, generosity and dedication from them! Occasionally they may have been asked to do things, which may have seen a bit absurd.
There are many stories within one film: colonialism, love story, colonialism, religion…if there is a main topic in the film, what is it?
I don’t like central ideas… The outset was the story was something I was told by a relative of mine: that an old lady was getting mad with her maid as she thought she was interfering too much in her life. This doesn’t sound like the plot of a novel, not the kind of story you make a film about. It’s a rather everyday story and I wanted that tone to be present in the film too. When people get over rational and start focusing on ideas, then they say “we need a scene to demonstrate this idea”. It is a rational construction. I don’t think that’s interesting. I believe films are far more organic in their structure.