Tabu Starring: Matahi, Reri, Hitu Director: F. W. Murnau The film: 'This picture deserves every word of the praise it is getting from the patrons of the Central Theatre,' wrote a reviewer for The China Mail soon after F.W. Murnau's Tabu opened in Hong Kong in early June 1931. The paper also played up the apparently sensational fact that it had premiered in faraway Hollywood only the previous month and, made with non-actors on location in French Polynesia, the film was enthusiastically prescribed as a welcome antidote to 'the synthetic marvels of the studio [system]'. Hong Kong moviegoers seem to have concurred - the outdoor Garden Cinema was still giving alfresco summer screenings on the Wan Chai waterfront more than a year later. Although not the first mainstream feature shot in the South Pacific - Robert Flaherty's Moana (1926) and W.S. Van Dyke's White Shadows in the South Seas (1928) and The Pagan (1929) were notable forerunners - Tabu was highly anticipated as the latest creation of the great German director who brought films like Nosferatu (1922) and Sunrise (1927) to the silver screen. It was, tragically, also his last: Murnau died in a car crash in California a few days before Tabu's first public screening. The story begins on the island of Bora Bora, where young lovers Matahi and Reri (below, also their real names) are just beginning to fall in love. A ship from a neighbouring island arrives carrying an elderly messenger, Hitu, informing the community that Reri has been selected by the islands' chief as their sacred virgin, and must return with him to take up her new position. Duly devastated, the couple heads for the horizon in a canoe and arrive at a more 'civilised' island, where Matahi takes up pearl diving and, unknowingly, runs up an astronomical tab at his local Chinese grocery shop. The forgotten Hitu, however, is not easily eluded. Murnau sailed to Tahiti to escape the American studio system, but in doing so he also left behind its technical facilities, sound stages and lighting set-ups that were thought vital to the expressionist style of filmmaking that made him one of the most admired directors of the late silent era. Despite this lack of resources, he and cameraman Floyd Crosby (who won an Oscar for his work) produced a remarkable film, full of dramatically lit scenes and striking camera angles, and one of Murnau's strengths, narrative clarity within a silent-movie framework, was never more obvious. The extras: This newly restored Eureka Masters of Cinema DVD features the uncensored, Murnau-approved version, which hasn't been seen in its entirety since before Paramount bought the film from Murnau in 1931. Plenty of background on this and other aspects of the film's history, plus some unnecessary overanalysing, can be heard on a commentary track by R. Dixon Smith and Brad Stevens. There's also a 15-minute German documentary about the making of the film, an 80-page book containing essays, interviews, historical texts and diary excerpts.