Saturday 22 February 2020

Arabian Nights [2015]

Miguel Gomes’ eccentric and ambitious magnum opus Arabian Nights – spread over 6 hours and split into three volumes (The Restless One, The Desolate One, The Enchanted One) is a work of contradictory brilliance, borne out of anger, dispair and bitterness, and packed with absurdity, melancholy, magic realism and acrid humour; or, as another reviewer marvelously put it, it’s “the blind men’s elephant: miniseries and short story cycle, documentary and fantasy, proletarian and prohibitive.” It begins with reportage of two parallel events – the heartwrenching closure of an enormous shipyard, and a wasp plague. With these, along with the simmering rage at how a government bereft of social justice held a beleaguered Portugal hostage to economic austerity – which led to slashing of jobs, wages and pensions – begins a series of curiously fascinating tableaux curated by a team of journalists Gomes had tasked with finding stories from across the country from that devastating period, using One Thousand and One Nights as a framing device. The best of the nine episodes, along with the vérité style opening chapter, comprised of – the nasty account of a group of bankers willing to ease up on austerity in exchange for cure to their impotence; the powerfully bleak tale of individuals left unemployed by the crisis, invited for a rare moment of fun; a satirical public trial which starts with a trifle offence, becomes increasingly elaborate and crazy, until no one’s innocent; a deeply affecting tale of a dog in a huge apartment block whose owners keep changing; an intimate monologue of a Chinese immigrant girl set against videos of massive public protest; and, a dream-like, quietly enthralling and nearly dialogue-free montage on a disappearing group of birdtrappers.

Director: Miguel Gomes
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Black Comedy/Political Satire/Fantasy
Language: Portuguese
Country: Portugal

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