[Last Films I Watched] Arabian Nights Vol.1,2,3 (2015)

Arabian Nights poster

English Title: Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One
Original Title: As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 1, O Inquieto
Year: 2015
Country: Portugal, France, Germany, Switzerland
Language: English, German, Portuguese, French, Mandarin
Genre: Drama
Director: Miguel Gomes
Writers:
Miguel Gomes
Telmo Churro
Mariana Ricardo
Cinematography:
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Mário Castanheira
Cast:
Miguel Gomes
Adriano Luz
Rogério Samora
Bruno Bravo
Américo Silva
Carloto Cotta
Diogo Dória
Maria Rueff
Dinarte Branco
Bassirou Diallo
Fernanda Loureiro
Carlos Loureiro
Sabrina Lopes
Margarida Rabaça
Gonçalo Waddington
Crista Alfaiate
Cristina Carvalhal
Aníbal Fabrica
Rui Silva
Sónia Vieira
Paulo Carvalho
Rating: 7.0/10

Arabian Nights Volume 1 The Restless One 2015

English Title: Arabian Nights: Volume 2 – The Desolate One
Original Title: As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 2, O Desolado
Year: 2015
Country: Portugal, France, Germany, Switzerland
Language: English, German, Portuguese, French, Mandarin
Genre: Drama
Director: Miguel Gomes
Writers:
Miguel Gomes
Telmo Churro
Mariana Ricardo
Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Cast:
Chico Chapas
Luísa Cruz
Joana de Verona
Crista Alfaiate
Pedro Caldas
Margarida Carpinteiro
Gonçalo Waddington
Carla Maciel
Manuel Mozos
Pedro Inês
Mariana Martins
José Manuel Mendes
Eduardo Frazâo
Adriano Luz
Américo Silva
Teresa Madruga
Joâo Pedro Bénard
Isabel Cardoso
Rating: 7.4/10

Arabian Nights Volume 2 The Desolate One 2015

English Title: Arabian Nights: Volume 3 – The Enchanted One
Original Title: As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 3, O Encantado
Year: 2015
Country: Portugal, France, Germany, Switzerland
Language: English, German, Portuguese, French, Mandarin
Genre: Drama
Director: Miguel Gomes
Writers:
Miguel Gomes
Telmo Churro
Mariana Ricardo
Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Cast:
Crista Alfaiate
Américo Silva
Carloto Cotta
Chico Chapas
Gonçalo Waddington
Jingjing Guo
Rating: 6.3/10

Arabian Nights Volume 3 The Enchanted One 2015

A binge-watching of Portuguese auteur-in-the-making Miguel Gomes’ Herculean ARABIAN NIGHTS trilogy, his fourth feature, the much-anticipated follow-up after TABU (2012), his critically acclaimed present/past diptych stunner.

Consciously informing audience beforehand with its caption – “The film is not an adaptation of the book ARABIAN NIGHTS despite drawing on its structure”, the three volumes of ARABIAN NIGHTS constitute an expansive ethnic dissection of Portugal’s burning mire, all the stories told by Scheherazade (Alfaiate) stem from events confined within a single calendar year from August 2013 to July 2014 in Portugal, when its people are stricken with economic austerity and become impoverished, implement by the government which Gomez denounces devoid of social justice.

Volume 1, The Restless One, presents at the get-go a documentary preamble fixates on two paralleled topics, one is the closure of a large shipyard and its ramifications of workers’ layoff, another is about the exigent countermeasure to the plague of wasps which blights the local apiculture.

After a brief introduction of Scheherazade and her nightly undertaking, she starts to narrate the stories, which allegedly should be scintillating enough to keep her alive from the killing-prone king.

The Men with Hard-ons is an outré caricature, government kingpins, including the Prime Minister of Portugal (Samora), are negotiating the future of the country with several other foreign capitalists, when a magician offers a cure of their collective impotence, they all accept it but soon find the flip side of a perpetual hard-on. This allegory runs out of gas quickly being too self-conscious all the time, it seems that ridicule is not Gomez’s strongest suit.

The Story of the Cockerel and the fire, is executed with a more naturalistic spin, but the magic element continues, a love triangle (impersonated by three teenagers) is behind a sagacious cockerel’s early-morning crowing, which causes some legal action for the owner and concurs with the election in an arson-rampant rural town. Weaving a fly-on-the-wall approach of fabricating a tall tale into expressing social critique with a critical eye, Gomes seems to find his footing.

The third story, the Swim of the Magnificents, carries on further with this methodology, plies audience with some very stimulating visual grandeur and idiosyncrasy, a fetid clinic (looks like being built in a cavity of a dead whale), follows by a stranded whale and its sudden explosion, leaves a struggling mermaid on the beach, a culmination achieved by a throng of people celebrating New Year’s Day in the fashion of winter swimming in the sea, that is the spirit, alleviating the sore generated from the previous three accounts of personal crisis caused by unemployment. Blending real and surreal, Volume One ends with a moderately impressive note.

The first story of Volume Two, the Desolate One, is the Chronicle of the Escape of Simão “Without Bowels”, sets against an expansive rural canvas, the said Simão (Chapas), is a reticent old man wanted for murder, nimbly dodging drones and patrol policemen, or savouring the exclusive service of three young naked girls, the story retains a recondite vein of local mythology and improbably detached from the present time frame.

The Tears of the Judge, shocks with its opening shot of a man’s penis with blood stains, evidently is the most progressive chapter to condemn the vicious circle of the social injustice, a litany of characters, including a genie (Alfaiate), a paper-made cow, a deaf woman (Martins), twelve Chinese mistress and a human-shaped lie detector (Mozos), accuse each other of wrongdoings during an open-air summary court presided by a female judge (Cruz), from law-enforce department, pensionary welfare to social service system, and its visa policy to attract rich people from non-EU countries, it has its sparks for its outlandish tableaux vivants and Cruz’s engaging performance, but unfortunately it falls into a heavy-handed rampage in the end, which gets lost in its own mire of disillusion.

A third tale, the Owners of Dixie, achieves a high point both as a bitter social commentary and a touching humanistic elegy, eyes through the shifting ownership of a dog named Dixie, inside a tower block, where variegated residents dwell (a meshwork well composed to give audience a glimpse of their lives), barely a happy soul due to the harsh economic environment, Dixie’s company brings at least some precious delight and solace to his masters, and finally a master stroke materialises when Dixie meets his past phantom, caps the tale with a transcendent vibe.

Volume 2 augurs well for the final volume of the sage, the Enchanted One, seemingly out of a mandatory impulse, Gomez starts with the story of Scheherazade, who has become jaded in her role as a raconteur, she wanders around the island, bemoans that there are so many thing she has never seen, in spite of being the Queen of the kingdom, after brief encounters with sundry characters, including a breeding stud, the Apollonian Paddleman (Cotta, in his dazzling blond allure), an ingenious upside-down shot reveals the other side of her world, the latter-day Portugal, then Scheherazade reunites with her father, the Grand Vizier (Silva) on a Ferris Wheel.

Then, the bulk of Volume 3 is dedicated to the Inebriating Chorus of the Chaffinches, a documentary steadfastly recounts the lives and back stories of the miscellaneous bird lovers living in a shanty town near the airport, where is famous for its chaffinches contest, and the bird-trapping expertise, ultimately it runs the risk of becoming a drag for non-enthusiats of this particular hobby for over-staying its welcome, albeit Gomez’s fervent resolution to observing the working class, in hope of sympathy and empathy could be induced through his unyielding effort.

At this step, a litany of detailed texts supplants the voiceover in the narrative, which strains a viewer’s concentration, aggravated by the unvarying repetitions of chronological passing, as if the fatigue vicariously transmitted from Scheherazade to viewers, is it doomed to be the last story from her? Gomez even sandwiches a narrative-only snippet in between the docu-disquisition, named Hot Forest, it is told in Mandarin from a Chinese student, who encounters a Portuguese policeman during a police demonstration, becomes his mistress, gets pregnant, then deserted and extradited back to China, where on the screen, some archives of demonstrations are used as the story’s visual complement. Interestingly, in this rather thoroughbred ethnological study, Chinese becomes the only intrusion among all three volumes, maybe Gomez intends to signal a warning, please be alert, Europe, the Chinese are coming!

Seen from a bigger picture, this ambitious passion project undeniably demands some formidable perseverance and energy to carry it off, whether its mammoth scale, its comprehensive execution or the lofty vocation to pinpoint a troubled society, each alone could be too overwhelming to debase its holistic value. But individually speaking, it is a portfolio composed of patchy genre-busting works and buttressed by a miscellany of eclectic music selections. Volume 2 is absolutely the high water mark in comparison, which bears witness to Gomez’s humanistic tendre in spirit and facility for conjuring up masterclass artistry in action, that’s something worth expecting, hopefully in a more condense structure.

Oscar 2015  Arabian Nights

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