Arabian Nights: Volume 2, The Desolate One
Directed by Miguel Gomes
Starring Crista Alfaiate, Chico Chapas, Joana de Verona, Teresa Madruga and João Pedro Bénard
In which Scheherazade tells of how desolation invaded men : “It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that a Judge will cry instead of giving out her sentence. A runaway murderer will wander through the land for over forty days and will teletransport himself to escape the Guard while dreaming of prostitutes and partridges. A wounded cow will reminisce about a thousand-year-old olive tree while saying what she must say, which will sound none less than sad ! The residents of a tower block in the suburbs will save parrots and piss inside lifts while surrounded by dead people and ghosts; including in fact a dog that…”. And seeing the morning break, Scheherazade fell silent.
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★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
"i must have puss — the moon is almost risen!"
…or something like that. anyway, like the middle chapter of most trilogies, this volume suffers enormously by starting mid-sentence. even having just seen the first chapter, i missed how Gomes' playfully self-reflexive introduction set things up, and i didn't love how he compensates for that with more pointed stabs at political commentary, which stretch from the sharper language of the opening text to the explicit message of the lugubrious middle chapter.
also feels less freewheeling than the previous movie…until, at least, the massive final story (and obvious Palm Dog winner from shot 1), which is something of a scattershot masterpiece in how it condenses the financial struggles of an entire country into a single hellish (but hopeful) apartment complex, with an adorable poodle mix as our Virgil.
strangely enough, the enormity of what Gomes is doing here didn't sink in until the innocuous shot used to backdrop the closing credits. curious how this all takes shape with the final bit.
★★★½ review by Chad Eberle on Letterboxd
Liked this more than Volume 1 (which I now see I also rated 67, but that feels high). How did Dixie not win the Palme Dog? Travesty.
★★★★★ review by Auteur on Letterboxd
A six-and-a-half-hour opus divided into three parts by Portuguese director Miguel Gomes, Arabian Nights singlehandedly, and quite exhaustively, redefines the political film. Inspired by the severe austerity measures that crippled his country a few years ago, Gomes beautifully blends fact and fiction into a searing magical realist document of governmental negligence and more importantly, the strength and resilience of the people affected. Borrowing the structure of the centuries-old One Thousand And One Nights, Arabian Nights is able to effortlessly move from story to story, reality to fantasy, incorporating both narrative and non-narrative styles, that becomes nothing less than miraculous. Criminally underseen and underappreciated.
Volume 2: The Desolate One was the Portugese entry for last year's Academy Awards, but sadly the powers that be thought Theeb a better selection. This middle chapter is the most fascinating of the three films, opening with a public trial that ultimately implicates everyone in attendance, and closing with a little dog named Dixie and her many different owners in a poverty-stricken tenement development. Gomes shows the plight of these burdened citizens in ways that are never preachy, endearing the audience to them through simply observing their day to day experiences, in the ways they deal, or don't deal, with their various hardships, the understanding ever-looming that this 150 minute film represents only a few chapters out of the millions affected.
★★★½ review by Josiah Morgan on Letterboxd
If you weren't on board for Gomes' reflex-style filmmaking in the first volume, I'm sorry to say that you won't be on board here, but there's a little more levity in this one and now that we understand the climate of the film it's easier to get what Gomes is trying to do, especially considering a more accessible formal warmth that doesn't seem so intent on turning away viewers (ironically part of the reason I preferred the first). This volume is poignant and funny at once, and although I feel these films may get lost somewhere in the annals of time, it's no small feat to craft something as complete as The Desolate One.
Full review to come with final/next volume.
★★★★ review by Melissa Tamminga on Letterboxd
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Story nestles within story, and "evil is not epic"; there is only a "severe selfishness."
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