Director: F. W. Murnau
Cast: Anne Chevalier, Matahi, Hitu
Synopsis: In his final film, F. W. Murnau presents the tale of two young lovers on the idyllic island of Bora Bora in the South Pacific.
I ask you, could any man resist the captivating smile of Reri, the actress who plays the young girl in Tabu, German director F. W. Murnau’s final movie? The thought of an idyllic life on a South Seas island, swimming a becalmed crystal ocean for pearls beneath a clear blue sky by day and spending evenings in a modest bamboo hut with her would have any young man abandoning the life they had known. That’s what happens to Matahi, a strapping young islander whose love for Reri looks as if it will be thwarted by the decision of the Island elders that she is to be the maiden who will be a wife to the Gods. This means no mortal may even look upon her with lust in their eyes. Naturally, this makes life a bit difficult for Matahi, so he and Reri make a run for it and wash up on that island idyll. But it isn’t long before the Island’s chief tracks them down and delivers a devastating ultimatum to Reri.
Tabu can be seen as a modern version of Adam and Eve, with the young lovers being compelled to leave paradise after partaking of the forbidden fruit. They’re a good looking, likeable pair – both were genuine South Seas islanders – while the representative of God is an unsmiling, menacing figure, so we’re left in no doubt as to where Murnau’s sympathies lie. The film begins slowly, and halts entirely for a lengthy wedding ceremony sequence, but it grows increasingly gripping and culminates in a remarkably powerful and heart-breaking final scene that is genuinely unforgettable. Floyd Crosby’s cinematography is crisp and vivid, and isn’t shy of showing young native girls in their topless prime. Needless to say, the censors were not so fearless…
(Reviewed 14th March 1931)