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Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)


Ironically, the Taboo should be letting that sweet thing marry an old fart.
Ironically, the Taboo should be letting that sweet thing marry an old fart.

Genre: Silent Adventure Romance Drama

Starring: Matahi, Anne Chevalier

Directed By: F.W. Murnau (The Last LaughNosferatu)

Overview: A young Tahitian couple in love find their future torn asunder when the island girl is made to become 'God's Maid', sent away to remain forever a virgin. Though she has become 'tabu', her lover would not so easily allow her out of his life.

Murnau's one of my favourite Silent Film directors, and the director of my favourite silent film. That being said, I must admit I find it stings just a little to say that Tabu, as one of many films in today's Romantic repertoire could be easily seen as a film without much to offer that is different, not one full of pizzazz. The story is, admittedly, mostly predictable and follows the simple plot of those catchall 20 Master Plots - number 15 to be precise.

What sets this apart from its other Romantic counterparts is, firstly, it's a silent film, and those are always interesting to watch, if only for the different style in narrative. Secondly, the principle actors are genuine islanders of Bora-Bora, Tahiti. What that means is that not only are the natives not a stomach-turning white people painted to look like another race, but there's a hint of that 'honest' acting one finds in French New Wave, though Tabu was made almost 30 years earlier.

The story begins simply enough: boy and girl, playful in love on their island paradise until the Islands' chief, escorted by the French, claims our fair maiden and whisks her off to a life pretty equivalent to that of a nun. Her man hatches plans to rescue her and run away, though the couple's youthful innocence and simplicity finds many challenges in the establishment and experience of the elders and the French colonists who are in hot pursuit.

You know someone's hot when you envy the shrubbery
You know someone's hot when you envy the shrubbery

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 6 Plot: 6 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 68% (Not Quite a Bore-a Bore-a, But It Ain't No Tahiti)

I suppose the subtext of the old established guard versus the new vibrant blood is another aspect that we can appreciate, as well as the touch of colonial history and culture, though I'd only reccommend Tabu for those into the genre, those who like Murnau or people who are into the history of film.

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