Volume One: The Restless One
Volume Two: The Desolate One
Volume Three: The Enchanted One
Directed by Miguel Gomes
10th May; 17th May; 24th May 2016
Reviewed by Colin Serjent
The three volumes of this epic film, directed by Miguel Gomes, spans over 381 minutes. Each of the three volumes were released as standalone films, one per week, three weeks in succession.
Very loosely based on the original Arabian Nights saga, it is a rambling odyssey through present day austerity-hit Portugal. The three volumes are enigmatic and eclectic to the extreme in terms of style, methods and narrative.
Although baffling and incomprehensible at times it is always, always engrossing, in particular the stupendous shots of the Portugese countryside and coastline, as well as natural locations within urban areas.
A particular favourite of the nine episodes, three per film, was the one in the third volume, ‘The Inebriating Chorus of the Chaffinches’, where men trap, train and compete, to see who can master the techniques of whistles, trills and strokes of the birds.
Despite the birds being highly valued possessions of these men their disdain and indifference of union protests against the ever-growing recession in Portugal is notable. According to Gomes unions have not helped them in their hour of need, nor the nation’s government, who are ‘devoid of social justice.’
Always present throughout is the theme of the high unemployment and the impoverishment blighting many people in the country.
In Volume One: The Restless One’ it includes the thoughts of the director on the filmmaking process in a hard-hit country like Portugal, and footage from an unfinished documentary about a countryside wasp plague is set against interviews with workers made redundant from the Viana Do Castelo shipyard.
In Volume Two: ‘The Desolate One’ we discover how mass murderer Simao ‘Without Bowels’ (Chico Chapas) became a rural folk hero, and there then follows an overbearing magistrate as she presides within a circular courtroom outdoors, debating and challenging accusations made in a series of ludicrous cases, including stolen cows, a full-sized genie and a depressed olive tree! This particular section perhaps mimicked the absurd ways the government run the country.
All in all the six plus hours of Arabian Nights was a pure dream-like delight, allied with beauty and heartache, and sometimes full of very dry humour, the latter being necessary to deal with stark reality. As Gomes commented: “Storytelling serves as an escape from reality, and a way to confront and transcend even the most difficult of times.”
It is political cinema of the highest order.