Arabian Nights: Volume 2, The Desolate One
Directed by Miguel Gomes
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 Zac Kindergelt on Letterboxd
What is so wonderful about this film is not the comedy, or the political commentary, or even the greatest dog ever. What makes this film so wonderful are the ideas that, more so then the first instalment, are universally understood and relatable in almost any culture. What brings the power in this film is coming to realize how prominent these ideas are in Portugal and how awful that truly is.
In order to fully flesh out my thoughts on what is without a doubt the strongest part of this trilogy, I will break this review down into three sections, each section reviewing one of the three stories. As a general statement, this film is much easier to digest, being only 3 parts, involving both grounded and fantastical narratives within a purely and undeniably fictional world. The separate tales are fleshed out to a greater extent, allowing for a thematically rich experience filled with fluctuating emotional states to be entranced in.
Our first tale is one of the man who has flown the coop. Evading the police for killing another, he must find a way to live without the privilege of proper shelter... or so we think in the beginning. What this out of place story soon becomes is a bitingly critical POV on the law enforcement and the lack of respect in the legal system due to corruption. What we see are beautiful woman serving this criminal and the citizens of the town he comes from holding him up with high praise. A murderer being showered in gifts for evading those that oppress a population when they should be helping them.
Next is the unparalleled segment in the trilogy, which takes place in a single setting, bookended by a nice little class commentary. What unfolds is a seemingly never-ending cycle of villainy and deceit, causing a domain effect throughout the population, all brought in front of a judge who is forced to deal with the matter. A hybrid of realism and fantasy, this segment gives us the funniest moments of the trilogy as we reflect upon the tragedy that must really be taking place if all of this presented before us has occurred. To not spoil any details I will not go further into explanation.
Finally is the story of a dog named Dixie who finds herself a home in an apartment complex that is essentially the entirety of Portugal. Through love, friendship, death and eviction, we are given the most relatable tale that has yet to be told. The many subplots that run through this section give us many perspectives on the complex, highlighting the class structure coupling with social inequality. The highlight is the lovable dog that always brings a smile to the viewers face. She is a puffy ball of happiness, if I were to put it into words. In order to take in the elements hidden in this less flamboyant segment, a second watch is essential.
The Desolate One is one of the great films of the year and certainly one I praise and implore you watch. It's simplicity in structure and poignancy in a common overarching ideology make this both an engrossing and educational watch. It's selection as the submission to the Academy awards is warranted and so will it's hopeful nomination. This film deserves to be recognized.
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