Arabian Nights Volume 3: The Enchanted One

 

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The trilogy by Miguel Gomes hits its high spot in the Third Volume, but fails to sustain it to 

the end.

 

Arabian Nights 3

 

If the Second Volume in Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights distanced itself from the basic concept, Volume 3 in contrast specifically features Scheherazade, and that’s the case even though the film again stresses that it is not an adaptation of the old tales but a modern-day equivalent concerned with life in Portugal today. It might have been assumed that in completing the trilogy Gomes would be drawing everything together and building to a climax, but in actuality it appears from his comments that the money running out at this point was the reason for not going on. Certainly there is no sense of conclusion and anyone wanting to try the series would lose nothing by starting with Volume 3 which is, in fact, the best.

About two thirds of the way through, this film breaks the trilogy’s usual pattern to tell one story, Hot Forest, very quickly. This is a dramatic piece about a female student for Beijing who, following a betrayal, is employed by a countess in Estoril. But, in effect, this episode as presented is a short interruption to a documentary-style work The Inebriating Story of the Chaffinches. This deals with individuals, mainly men, who have made singing contests for birds a central feature in their lives: many have put behind them a dubious past to trap and train a bird and through it to develop the singing quality of younger birds. This is intriguing and birdsong even features over the end credits, but told at length in two distinct parts it comes to seem too long.

The real pleasure here is the opening segment lasting some forty minutes or so. This is the section built around Scheherazade herself as she seeks to explore the world of which she knows so little. During her adventures she is drawn to a paddleman with many children who is himself attracted to her, yet she makes her own decisions and moves on to encounter first a dancing thief and then the Genie of the Wind. Music has been strongly used throughout the trilogy with Perfidia becoming a theme tune, but this segment of the film almost becomes a musical and the colour photography is at its best. Consistently fantastical in character, this episode has a genuinely beguiling and wholly original feel and is possessed of its own magic. Would that the rest of this extraordinary and strange endeavour had been of the same quality! Had it achieved that the Arabian Nights Volumes would have done more to support the notion behind Gomes’s work here that it is stories that help us to survive.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Crista Alfaiate, Américo Silva, Amar Bounschada, Carlotto Cotta, Hervés Diasnas, Lionel Franc, Chico Chapas, Gonçalo Waddington, Quitério, Jin Jing Guo, Bernardo Alves, Elvis Barrientos.

 

Dir Miguel Gomes, Pro Luis Urbano, Sandro Aguilar and Thomas Ordonneau, Screenplay Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo and Telmo Churro, Ph Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Art Dir Bruno Duarte and Artur Pinheiro, Ed Telmo Churro and Pedro Filipe Marques, Costumes Silvia Grabowski and Lucha d’Orey.

 

O Som e a Fúria/Komplizen Film etc.-New Wave Films.
125 mins. Portugal/France/Germany/Switzerland. 2015. Rel: 6 May 2016. Cert. 15.