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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Tabu (Blu-ray)
Tabu (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // December 8, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matt Hinrichs | posted December 9, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

The dreamy 1931 film Tabu came as the result of a one-of-a-kind collaboration between two silent cinema greats - director F. W. Murnau (Nosferatu; Sunrise) and documentarian Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North). This tragic love story utilized the island of Tahiti to breathtaking effect, yet it's more than merely a picture postcard of life in the tropics. The Kino Classics' Blu-ray presents this transitional silent (with synchronized score) in a beautifully restored edition with informative extras and lots of footage Murnau shot yet never included in the final film.

Superficially, Tabu shares a lineage with other early talkie travelogues, torrid stories in exotic locales such as White Shadows in the South Seas or Trader Horn. The big difference here is that Murnau spent a solid nine months in Tahiti (Flaherty left the project at some point), absorbing the natives' culture and filming enough footage for several films. The resulting 86-minute feature, like Sunrise, presents a stylized, romantic story with an aching sympathy for the inevitable, intertwined fates of the film's young lovers.

With a title card informing that the film "has an all-Native cast with some Chinese and half-caste," Tabu unfurls with robust, fast-moving scenes of barely-dressed native men spear-fishing in the ocean. We get acquainted with one of the virile young men, Matahi, as he and his buddies return to the island of Bora Bora with their seafood booty. The guys come across a group of young women frolicking in a waterfall - including Matahi's love, Reri (Anne Chevalier). A royal descendant, Reri becomes chosen as a gift to the chief of a neighboring tribe for her beauty and virtue. This makes her tabu, however, decreed that "man must not touch her or cast upon her the eye of desire." The upset young lovers decide on a daring escape via outrigger canoe, eventually reaching a developed French colony. Matahi and Reri make a home at the colony as the young man becomes skilled at pearl diving. It isn't long, however, before their whereabouts become known to Hitu, the elderly warrior who claimed ownership of Reri. Faced with death for daring to love Reri, Matahi avoids his fate with an increasing sense of despair.

Told through the perspective of a white police officer observing the natives, Tabu's story seems just a bit less immersive than other travelogue-melodramas of the period, such as W.S. Van Dyke's incredible Eskimo from 1933. Murnau more than makes up for it, however, with his finesse in handling the lead actors (both give sensitive, nuanced performances) and the beautifully composed and lit photography. No surprise, then, that this film won that year's Academy Award for Floyd Crosby's cinematography. Murnau, who died in an auto accident shortly before Tabu's premiere, wasn't around to bask in the film's accolades.

Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and do not reflect the contents of the Blu-ray being reviewed.

The Blu-ray:


Kino Classics' Blu-ray edition of Tabu uses the same restored version of the film issued by the U.K.'s Eureka in 2013 as part of their Masters of Cinema series. It also retains some (but not all) of the extras included on that release.

Video

The wonderfully detailed 1080p image is presented in the film's original 1.19:1 aspect ratio. The restoration leaves some of the damage inherent in the original print, although for the most part it's a stunningly clean, nicely textured image with great texture and lovely tonal values. Although the high-definition format tends to be hit-or-miss when it comes to older films, this is one example where the enhanced resolution brings out depth in what was already a beautifully photographed image. The film's 86-minute running time restores Murnau's original approved edit, with title cards printed in English.

Audio

Tabu is one of those transitional films which was photographed silent, then released with a synchronized score. Composer Hugo Riesenfeld's orchestrations are given a good, full treatment in 2.0 mono. Despite the age and limitations of the source material, the track sports a noticeably fuller sound than many other films of that early sound era.

Extras

Kino's Tabu carries over many of the special features from the U.K. release, including a making-of documentary and a vintage short using outtakes from the film. The only thing from the prior release that is missing here is an audio commentary.

  • The Language of Shadows: Tabu (14:53) Filmmakeer Luciano Beeiatúa recounts the making of Tabu, the logistics of shooting in Bali, and the film's release following Murnau's sudden death in this documentary. Spoken in German with English subtitles, the piece includes recollections from Murnau's daughter.
  • Tabu: A Work in Progress (14:47) Produced by the Dutsche Kinemathek, this narrated piece guides viewers through some of Murnau's unused alternate takes of scenes included in Tabu.
  • Tabu: Takes and Outtakes (25:22) Footage Murnau shot but ultimately did not use in the film is included in this previously unseen presentation. The silent film includes multiple takes of the natives rushing to greet the visiting schooner, among other scenes. (This was not included on the Masters of Cinema disc.)
  • Hunt in the South Seas a.k.a. Treibjagd in der Südsee (11:12), a German short from 1940, documents the Tahitian natives harvesting the ocean for fish using discarded footage Murnau shot during the making of Tabu.

Final Thoughts

Innovative director F. W. Murnau merges documentary and stylized romance in Tabu, a film which uses Tahiti's beautiful scenery to wondrous effect (it won one of the earliest Oscar awards for cinematography). A sumptuous high-def digital restoration of this pioneering film is the highlight of Kino Classics' Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.

Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.

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