A trio of won­ders

SFX - - Reviews -

re­leased OUT NOW!/ 29 April/ 6 May TBC | 382 min­utes Di­rec­tor Miguel Gomes Cast Crista Al­fa­iate, Di­narte Branco, Car­loto Cotta, Adri­ano Luz

Re­leased over three con­sec­u­tive weeks in sep­a­rate vol­umes – The Rest­less One, The Des­o­late One, The En­chanted One – to­talling nearly six- and- a- half hours, this am­bi­tious tril­ogy by Por­tuguese film­maker Miguel Gomes is no straight adap­ta­tion of sto­ries that com­prise One Thou­sand And One Nights. In­stead it bor­rows the con­ceit of Scheherazade ( Crista Al­fa­iate) telling nightly tales to her kingly hus­band in an ef­fort to stay alive, but bends those sto­ries so that they might pass com­ment on a mod­ern- day Por­tu­gal crip­pled by aus­ter­ity mea­sures.

If that all sounds a lit­tle high- minded and dry, it’s saved from be­ing so by an eclec­tic sound­track, a pal­pa­ble love of sto­ry­telling, deep hu­man­ism, right­eous fury, bawdy hu­mour, and Gomes’s star­tling abil­ity to shuf­fle tones, gen­res and eras. Surely the first film to leap from the tes­ti­mony of laid- off dock­yard work­ers to tales burst­ing with ge­nies, princes and out­laws, Ara­bian Nights veers from the nat­u­ral­is­tic to the fan­tas­ti­cal, from documentary to fic­tion.

Vol­umes one and two are es­pe­cially cap­ti­vat­ing, as Gomes tells how he charged a team of re­searchers with scour­ing Por­tu­gal in search of tales. Phi­los­o­phy and al­le­gory are ripe: for­eign wasps kill off the in­dige­nous bee pop­u­la­tion; a com­mit­tee of politi­cians drink a mag­i­cal po­tion and de­velop ram­pant erec­tions; and a cock­erel on trial for crow­ing too early de­fends him­self.

Vol­ume three con­tains trea­sures too, though a faux- documentary on singing chaffinches out­stays its wel­come. The great thing about Ara­bian Nights is that if one story isn’t to your lik­ing, an­other soon pops up, so the de­ci­sion to give this tale a fea­ture- length run­ning time is per­plex­ing. Quib­bles aside, how­ever, this is dar­ing, mag­i­cal film­mak­ing. Jamie Gra­ham

Gomes didn’t di­vide the sto­ries up un­til the edit. There was a nine- hour ver­sion, where the chaffinch sec­tion ran 160 min­utes!

Trips on the beach big wheel were un­der­whelm­ing.

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