Interview: Miguel Gomes, director of the LUX Prize finalist "Tabu"
After winning the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlinale, Portuguese director Miguel Gomes' third film, Tabu, is now a finalist for the European Parliament's 2012 LUX Prize. Tabu is about a temperamental old lady, her Cape Verdean maid and her neighbour who is committed to social causes. After the old lady’s death, the other two women find out about an episode from her past: a story of love and crime set in an Africa that looks like something out of an adventure movie. Watch Miguel Gomes’ video interview!
Interview with Portuguese director Miguel Gomes, author of Tabu
A hit at the 2012 Berlinale. A fascinating, fabulous film, and an extraordinary cinematographic experience. Winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize and the FIPRESCI International Critics' Prize, as well as 2012 LUX Prize finalist.
How does it feel being a finalist for the Lux Prize?
I’m glad to see that after all there is some action in Europe. We weren’t sure about that these days, nothing seems to happen politically. I think it’s important to be here in Venice and to have the support of European Union and European Parliament, and mostly to have the recognition of cinema from the European Union, which understands that cinema is important and must be supported. Production of cinema in a sustained, continuous way is only possible in industries like Hollywood or Bollywood. For the rest of the world, you need to have cultural policies to support films.
What inspired your film?
In a way, I proceed a little bit like a collector. I don’t start with a subject or a main idea. Certain things strike me: songs or stories that someone told me, or the desire to film someone. Then — I don’t know why, I don’t know when—there is a moment when things come together. In Tabu, there was a story told by a relative of mine about her neighbour, an old lady who had a strange relationship with her African maid. This is also in the film. With the stories I’ve been told, I wanted to have these kinds of characters, old and lonely women, characters you don’t get to see much in cinema. There was also another thing that was important to me, which was a song I used in my previous film. I found out that the first version of this song had been by a band that played in Mozambique during the sixties. I met these guys. They showed me pictures of their concerts, their white suits. I listened to their stories and this was also very important for starting Tabu.
Why did you choose to shoot in black and white?
I think that my film deals with time and memory. I’m not that smart so I didn’t think about it while I was making the film, but I became more and more aware of this. In the first part of the film, there is an old woman who will die and when she dies, that’s when the second part of the film starts. Her death gives birth to an extinguished society, a former Portuguese colony in Africa, which does not exist anymore. This second part also wants to have a dialogue with an extinguished form of cinema, silent film. So, I chose black and white because I wanted to do it properly, not just filming digitally and taking out the colours. I had to make the film like they were made for years and years in the past. That means film stock, something which is on the verge of disappearing.
Can cinema change politics?
Cinema can connect with people. Of course, people can be touched by a film, make them think about what they’ve seen and react to it, even if now television is much more powerful than cinema. There is one scene in Tabu where you have Pilar, a very catholic and lonely woman, watching a film. She’s crying, which means that she’s moved by this film that we don’t see. Next to her, her friend is sleeping, which means that he maybe has a slow metabolism or is just bored with the film, and this happens every day. We have to understand that we’re always alone in front of a film. Everyone is alone with their own perceptions, emotions, wall, and interests. I think that cinema can influence, give something to the life of people, but not to all of them…