Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One

Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"As Mil e Uma Noites" is the latest film (at the time of writing) by the Portuguese Miguel Gomes, a director who first caught my attention with "Tabu", which received acclaim in Portugal and internationally. His new work, a trilogy amassing 381 minutes divided into 3 Volumes, debuted at Cannes at the Director’s Fortnight, having been considered for Palm d’Or but its sheer duration would be problematic for the festival’s agenda. Meanwhile, it has already won some prizes, such as at the Sidney FF, among other nominations.
Miguel Gomes called upon the Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, notorious for having regularly worked with "Joe" in pictures like Uncle Boomnee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, winner of the Palm d’Or in 2010, which becomes glaring in some framing layouts, colour tones (and in a scene where a woman fades with the same trick that was used in Boonmee).

The movie starts in a documentary style, with the narrated account of the workers at the shipyards of Viana do Castelo about their imminent mass dismissal, speaking interchangeably and in parallel with another narrated report, from the same Portuguese region but without any causal relationship, of a bee-keeper and handyman who fights against a plague of foreign wasps. This apparent lack of correlation between these two events provokes a creative crisis of the film Director, who is seen himself running away from his own film crew, because he fears he may be lacking the ability to carry on his quest of portraying various episodes of the Portuguese economical crisis. The film thus becomes self-aware, like a Charlie Kaufman screenplay. In order to satisfy his film crew, Miguel Gomes then proceeds to explain his intention of telling a series of stories, loosely on the lines of the Arabian Scheherazade homonimal frame tale.

The next segment is probably the silliest, where what might seem to be a serious meeting with the portuguese government and the “troika” representatives (who Miguel Gomes clearly critiques, presenting both parties with a clear “lack of social justice notion”), quickly becomes a surrealistic and delirious episode that satirizes the twists and turns of their decisions, relaying to the lack of “vigor” of the stakeholders, as well as their communication issues inherent to their different home countries. It's a very Buñuel segment, which the author titled “The Men with Hard-Ons”.

The following segment, “The Story of the Cockerel and the Fire”, my personal favourite of the volume, tells a true story in the town of Resende about a rooster that is trialed for disturbing the neighbours with its loudness. Meanwhile, municipal elections are ongoing -- which are the subject of provincial conversations, as well as town festivities, and frequent arsons in the mountain range. This set of phenomena might seem unfocused, recalling the initial troubles of the Director’s ability to correlate between such events, but then we re-enter the surrealist context and we're introduced to an ephemeral foreign character who spits a charade about the “flames” of the village, and, more extravagantly, grants the “singing” rooster the ability to speak in his defense to the judge before being condemned to the cooking pot, providing the keys to correlating the remaining ongoing village intrigues.
This is the most folkloric segment, where Gomes channels some idiosyncrasies of Kusturica, particularly on a typically portuguese character who accompanies the judge while joyfully playing his accordion.

The last segment of this Volume takes place in Aveiro (the city where I studied in University) and captures the region’s “Barra” lighthouse -- the second tallest of the Iberic Peninsula. Here, we follow the difficulties of the fugleman of “The Bath of the Magnificents”, who suffers from heart disease and hears the testimonies of three “Magnificents” of the region, who tell their stories of severe financial difficulties. The “Bath” at the beach of “Barra” takes place on the first of January and seems to be a way of starting a new year with the superstition of better times ahead… In-between, the punctual doses of satirical surrealism are not missing, metaphors: a quirky “medical appointment” and an “exploding” dead whale stuck in the sand.

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