Tabu

Released:  1931

Cast:  Matahi, Reri, Jean, Hitu

Oscar Wins:  Best Cinematography (Floyd Crosby)

SUMMARY:  On the island of Bora Bora, in the South Pacific, a young man named Matahi falls in love with a girl named Reri, and she with him.  Their happiness is short-lived; a ship arrives with a message from the chief of Fanuma (who is apparently higher-ranking than the chief of Bora-Bora).  The message is brought by a elderly man named Hitu, and states that a sacred maiden has died and must be replaced.  The chief of Fanuma has chosen Reri for this honor, because of her royal lineage and virtue.  Since she has been chosen as the new sacred maiden, she must not be touched or even admired by men; anyone who does so will be killed.  In addition, if Hitu does not return to Fanuma with Reri, he will be killed.  Despite the dire warnings, Matahi decides he cannot live without Reri.  At night, he sneaks onto the ship and rescues her; the two then travel the ocean in an outrigger canoe until, nearly dead with exhaustion, they reach a French colony.  Away from their people, they are able to start a new life together.  Matahi proves to be an excellent pearl diver, to the delight of the people he works for.  Even better for them, and other businesses on the island, he does not understand the concept of money.  A Chinese bar owner is able to get him to sign all kinds of bills, without disclosing exactly what they are.  one day, a ship arrives on the island, and a local official learns that Matahi and Reri are wanted people.  To maintain a good relationship with the natives, the French are offering a reward for the capture of the pair.  The official comes to arrest them, but Matahi successfully bribes him with his last pearl.

That night, Reri sees Hitu suddenly appear in the doorway of their hut.  She later receives notice that she has three days to turn herself over to him, or he will kill Matahi.  The next day Reri inquires about the cost of two tickets to another island.  She and Matahi decide to flee, and he takes all of their money to the store to book passage.  However, he is ambushed by the bar owner, who produces the bills Matahi signs.  All of the money is put toward these bills, and the purchase of the tickets is denied.  That night, Hitu suddenly appears again; this time, he tries to throw a spear at Matahi and kill him.  Reri keeps this from happening, then agrees to leave with Hitu to save Matahi.  Meanwhile, Matahi has decided to get the needed money by pearl diving in the richest area of the ocean.  Unfortunately, this part is considered “tabu” (taboo), because it is believed to be sacred.  It is also home to a large shark, who has already killed one man just days earlier.  When he thinks Reri is asleep, he sneaks out and goes diving.  He is attacked by the shark, but manages to fight him off and also get a pearl.  He returns to the hut, only to find that Reri is gone.  She has left a note explaining that she is going back to Bora Bora with Hitu.  Matahi runs after the boat and manages to swim up to it and grab a rope.  Reri is asleep, and sees none of this, but Hitu sees it, and cuts the rope.  Matahi continues trying to chase the boat, but is worn out and cannot catch up.  He drowns as Reri sails away.

MY TAKE:  Damn, I really wish this movie was in color.  I think it would look a lot like the musical South Pacific, with vibrant colors and lush scenery.  It actually reminded me of that movie somewhat, and also of the Steinbeck story The Pearl.  Aside from the ending, I actually enjoyed the movie, but I had a couple of issues with it.  first, I have trouble believing that Matahi was that freaked out by a shark.  He’s lived in the South Pacific, on an island, his whole life:  sharks are a fact of life in the ocean, especially warmer ones.  Most sharks are not particularly vicious towards humans, and an experienced diver/swimmer would surely know how to cope with them (think Into the Blue).  Instead, Matahi sees the shark once and completely flips, which only attracts the shark’s attention.  My other problem also involved Matahi and the ocean:  it’s the last scene, when he drowns after Hitu cuts that rope.  Again, Matahi has lived on an island his whole life, and he’s obviously a strong and experienced swimmer.  Just about the first thing you’re taught while learning to swim is how to float on your back, and swimmers know that when they’re tired, they should flip onto their back and backstroke.  Instead of doing this, Matahi continues thrashing around and quickly drowns.  He may have eventually died of exhaustion, after continuing to swim after the boat (in vain), but he could have gone on a lot longer if he had just turned over onto his back.  Even if he just floated, he would have eventually been washed back to shore.  I just don’t think that somebody that familiar with the ocean would make two rookie mistakes like this — I know this, and I don’t live anywhere near the ocean.  Other than this, and the fact that I desperately wanted it to be in color, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed the movie.

RATING:  Pretty good.

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