Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One
Directed by Miguel Gomes
Every night, in danger of being beheaded, Scheherazade tells King Shahryar unfinished tales to continue them the following night, hence defying his promise of murdering his new wives after their wedding night. Scheherazade tells king Shahryar her stories but these are not those in the book. These are stories based on whatever will be happening in Portugal during the production time of the film. As in the book, these stories will be tragic and comical, with rich and poor, powerless and powerful people, filled with surprising and extraordinary events. This film will be about the reality of a disgraced country, Portugal, under the effects of a global economic crisis.
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★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
so... i'm starting to think that Migues Gomes may not be super thrilled with how austerity measures have affected Portugal?
(more on this when i've seen all three chapters, though i'm certainly learning a lot! namely: "IWALU." interest certainly peaked early and then waned through the 2nd and 3rd stories, but there's a lot to digest in both and by "a lot to digest" i obviously mean "voiceover from a rooster" and "an exploding whale carcass.")
★★★★ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd
Finally watched the first part, after seeing the second and third on back to back days at VIFF last October. As I suspected, seeing part one makes me appreciate part three more, as the films' structure becomes more clear: a shift between the real and the supernatural, tangled together in part one, gradually separating and diffusing as the saga progresses. The second film is still my favorite, the only one I really think can stand as a great work all on its own, it's telling though that my favorite section in the whole series is the first half of part three, the most fantastical chapter, while the most stubbornly realistic (the finches) drove me nuts in the theatre. I like those finches a lot more in retrospect (perhaps removed by several months from the tedium of watching them), as a mellow fade out to the whole series, and for their clever callback to one of the stories in part one (the rooster crowing and the finches singing, but for very different reasons). When (if?) they play theatrically here, I'm looking forward to watching the three of them all together in one day. Only then I think can I really get a handle on just what Gomes has done here.
★★★★ review by João Abel on Letterboxd
"As Mil e Uma Noites" is the latest film by the Portuguese Miguel Gomes, a director who already caught my special attention with his "Tabu", which also received very positive appreciation, in Portugal and internationally. His new work, a trilogy amassing 381 minutes divided in 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 especially in a scene where a woman fades with a film technique identical to the one used in Boonmee.
I will write about the first Volume, “The Restless”, which is now screening in some (too few) Portuguese cinema theatres.
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 keen on peculiarly showing himself running away from his own film crew, because he fears he may be lacking the ability to carry on his quest of portraying on the big screen the various episodes during the Portuguese financial crisis. The film thus becomes self-aware, channeling a Charlie Kaufman screenplay (Adaptation.). In order to satisfy his film crew, Miguel Gomes then proceeds, in a bizarre context, 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 most silly, 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 an anedoctic and highly surrealistic and delirious episode that satirizes the twists and turns of their decisions, relaying to the lack of “vigour” (sexual innuendo) of the stakeholders, as well as their communication issues inherent to the internationality of the meeting. It is, accordingly, the most Buñuel of the segments of the movie, which the author titled “The Men with Hard-Ons”.
The following segment, “The Story of the Cockerel and the Fire”, is my personal favourite of the volume, which tells a true story in the town of Resende about a rooster that is trialled for disturbing the neighbours with its loudness. Meanwhile, municipal elections are ongoing -- which are subject of quaint 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, which solely seem to share a common site, but behold as we re-enter the surrealist context and Miguel Gomes introduces in the narrative an ephemeral Asian character who spits a charade about the “flames” of the village, and, more extravagantly, grants the “singing” rooster the ability to speak in his defence to the judge before being condemned to go to the cooking pot and explaining the missing correlation (and even causality) between the arsons, an innocent story of teenage crush which were in the origin of the crimes, and his own loud nocturnal manifestations, that were no more than an attempt to warn the town of the fires that were to happen.
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.
In the last segment of this Volume, takes place in Aveiro (the city where I’m finishing University), and captures some pretty imagery of 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 crossing severe financial difficulties. The “Bath” at the beach of “Barra” takes place in 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, with a quirky “medical appointment” and an “exploding” dead whale, which got stuck in the sand of the aforementioned beach -- significances to be deciphered by the viewers.
I will be anxiously waiting for the second Volume, “The Desolated”, for another two hours of a cinematic experience with an identity so inextricably Portuguese that I will certainly not waste a chance to watch.
★★★★½ review by Raquel Sousa on Letterboxd
I feel like I should have something to say about this film solely for the fact that I'm a portuguese citizen, but the truth is I was just left speechless.
My first tought after leaving the cinema was wishing that everybody could be portuguese to experience this masterpiece the way I did, but at the same time I wouldn't wish that upon anybody because, well...yeah, go watch it.
★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd
Already quite possibly the most critically acclaimed film (or films) of the year, this expansive experimental blockbuster trilogy should already be on your radar as a must-see. Gomes is that rare auteur who can communicate righteous political anger with such humor and clarity that even his most strident agitprop comes off as the very model of civilized discourse. As he begins the first film, "The Restless One," with a bit of self-deprecating metacommentary about the untenable privilege of making such a film when Portugal is suffering (and to be honest, I believe Gomes's neurotic-director act must be a jab at Nanni Moretti), he explains his method: put things that are happening at the same time in the film alongside each other, hoping they will form a critique. The Scheherazade structure will be a clothesline of sorts, to permit multiple tales and formats to exist in one film, side by side. And so, "The Restless One" is an excoriating and often absurd docu-fiction about how EU-imposed austerity has actually affected ordinary Portuguese people.
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