Tabu (film)

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Tabu (also called Tabu, a Story of the South Seas) is a 1931 film directed by F.W. Murnau. The film is split into two chapters, the first called "Paradise" depicts the lives of two lovers on a South Seas island until they are forced to escape the island when the girl is chosen as a holy maid to the gods. The second chapter, "Paradise Lost" depicts the couple's life on a colonised island and how they adapt to and are exploited by Western civilisation. According to an intertitle at the beginning, "only native-born South Sea islanders appear in this picture with a few half-castes and Chinese". The title of the film comes from the concept of tapu (sometimes spelled tabu, which originated the concept of taboo). It is a form of sacredness in many Polynesian cultures (see: tapu (Polynesian culture).

The film's story was written by Robert J. Flaherty and F.W. Murnau. With the exception of the opening scene the film was directed solely by Murnau. This was his last film. He died in hospital after an automobile accident on 11 March 1931, a week before the film's premiere in New York.

Cinematographer Floyd Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on this film. In 1994, Tabu was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



Matahi is a native man living in Bora Bora, a small island in the South Pacific. One day, he meets the beautiful Reri and falls in love with her. Shortly after they meet, the Tribal Elders (led by Hitu) arrive from the surrounding islands. Their maid to the gods has died and they choose Reri as a replacement because of her unparalleled beauty. If any man so much as casts a lustful gaze at her, he is to be put to death. Matahi however is unwilling to let her go; at night, he sneaks her off the Elders' ship and the couple escape the island by canoe. Eventually, they arrive on a French Colony, where Matahi becomes the community's most successful pearl diver. He is happy with his new life, but Reri remains fearful that the Elders will find them. In pursuit of the couple, Hitu visits the island and tells Reri she has three days to give herself up or Matahi will be put to death. Without telling Matahi of Hitu's threat, Reri tries to buy a ticket for them to escape to the mainland. However, Matahi has no concept of money and they find themselves so far in debt they are unable to pay for passage on a ship. That night, Matahi decides to go out and obtain a pearl from a shark-infested region of the reef in order to pay off his debt. While he is away, Reri writes a farewell note to Matahi, and Hitu comes to collect her. When Matahi returns, he finds her note and tries to swim after Hitu's boat. After grabbing a rope along the edge of the boat, Hitu cuts it loose; Matahi continues swimming after them and drowns.

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