ARABIAN NIG HTS
A trio of wonders
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.