NYFF: Miguel Gomes On 'Tabu' And The Pleasures And Phantoms Of Cinema

Interviews
by Christopher Bell
October 17, 2012 8:01 PM
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And while he admits to being incredibly taken by musical comedies, the Portuguese filmmaker cannot resist adding a little bit of conflicting reality into his escapism: "My interest is that with fantasies and artificial structures, you don’t have to reject reality and I wanted to have both in the film. That means filming the material reality of that place, Mozambique in the second part, and have the fiction functioning among the Mozambique nowadays. I remember that there were kids wearing Obama t-shirts and my production asked if I wanted them to take them off. I said ‘hell no.’ There are guys with specific mustaches designed on then and girls who have their hair made in the style of the 60s, that’s the fiction. But we should not put away Obama t-shirts because we should not reject reality." It's an idea that also finds itself as one of the themes of film, the equation between reality and the desire of fiction. "I think the characters in the first part have an urge for fiction, that’s why they go to the cinema, that’s why they continue to read Robinson Crusoe, that’s why Aurora is always acting and performing to the others. We need in our daily, normal life a space for fiction." Just as fiction peaks through the cracks of the first one, the freewheeling nature of the second chapter sees reality -- whether it be the furious husband violently confronting the adulterous couple or just the ignorant nature of the colonialist structure -- rearing its ugly head to rain on everyone's parade.

Hollywood's Yearning For Formula
"There are now these guys that work in cinema called script doctors. This confuses me, because if there are script doctors that means the screenplays are sick or something, they need medicine. They always are talking about the way we shoot, the structure of film, the script at least, and I think their supposed model is classical American cinema. But I don’t exactly know what they’ve seen and I think they're missing something. I always give this example: in one of the high moments of classical American cinema, ‘Rio Bravo’ from Howard Hawks, the bad guys are in jail and their gang is coming to break them out, maybe kill John Wayne and Dean Martin. Because they are scared, they start to sing. Ok, so this is the standards of classical structure, at least in that genre. But when they stop singing, what do they do? They sing another one. And this is completely dysfunctional in the pattern of what should be. Logically, two songs in a row is too much. Why did Hawks do that? Because of the pleasure of it. I also made this film’s structure for my pleasure and hopefully the pleasure of the viewers that go through these rules and such, and for me it’s fun to go through them to get to the end. There is an oversimplification these days, they weren’t always these strict three-act structures and such, they had a lot of nuances. Sometimes it was not that linear."

Unleashing The Phantoms
The director often starts a film by collecting a number of ideas that he has a strong yearning to do, which is why some of his movies tend to have very different, opposing elements. A lot of these inspiring elements also happen to be from movies, and Gomes often unleashes them into the wild. "Having watched a lot of films and digesting them, they’re not always clear in my head, they are mixed and vague, more like phantoms. So I have all the sensations of other films I’ve watched, more recent, some old, and I think that there is a space in every film to let these ghosts enter. These phantoms can be so alive in films. That can be the reality. You don’t have to choose them, you just have to film what’s existing now, but let the phantoms of other times enter the film you are doing," he explained, while also name-dropping a great contemporary film that he thought did a similar thing: "Holy Motors." "I was quite impressed by that. All the phantoms of cinema: musical comedy, thrillers, horrors, political films, all run rampant in that movie."

On Shooting Digital
Despite the imposing digital environment of cinema, Gomes elected to shoot "Tabu" in both 35mm and 16mm, believing it to be the only appropriate way to tell his story. "I felt that the only honest way to do it was to use something on the verge of disappearing, film stock, and try to do it like cinema was done for years and years." The director insists that he is no purist and even admires some movies that have engaged in the digital world. “Pedro Costa does very good films on digital, and ‘Holy Motors’ was shot on digital and that’s a hell of a good film. Still, it’s sad because I’m pretty attached to film. I think it continues to be much better than digital, which is too clinical for me. Even some cameras were designed by companies that make eye glasses. So it’s completely different from photography, it’s a new thing. But I’m not saying that every cinema should only exist on film,” Gomes concluded.

Here's the trailer below.

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