Tabu (1931)

by guest writer

Tabu (A Story of the South Seas) was to be unfortunately the last film directed by F.W.Murnau. One wonders what would’ve happened if this cinema master had lived to make talkies. This curiosity will not be answered and remains at our own imagination. Tabu is a story of the South Seas, having as background the Bora Bora landscape. Only native born South Seas islanders appear in this picture with just a few exceptions. Two important cinema parents came together to make Tabu: Robert Flaherty (banished from Hollywood) and the fatalist Murnau.

Production began with troubles and breaks in 1930 and stretched for nine months. Murnau spoke French fluently, as the native actors did, so there was no need for interpreters. Filming was frequently disrupted for refining the story. With a screenplay created by both Murnau and Flaherty, Tabu tells us the tragic tale of the forbidden love. Beautifully shot by Floyd Crosby (Flaherty’s cameraman), the film combines documentaristic elements with powerful and melancholical Expressionism visuals.

To clonclude with, we’ll just present the director’s feelings when working on location in Bora Bora (fragments from a letter addressed to his mother): ‘When I think I shall have to leave all this I already suffer all the agony of going. I am bewitched by this place. I have been here a year and I don’t want to be anywhere else. The thought of cities and all those people is repulsive to me. I want to be alone or with a few rare people. When I sit outside my bungalow in the evening and look at the sea…and see the waves break one by one and thunder on the reef, then I feel terribly small, and sometimes I wish I were at home. But I am never at home anywhere – I feel this more and more the older I get – nor in any country nor in any house nor with anybody.’

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