×

Cannes Film Review: ‘Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One’

The first installment of Miguel Gomes’ trio of pics acts as a melancholy paean to a broken Portugal and a denunciation of European financial control.

With:
Crista Alfaiate, Adriano Luz, Americo Silva, Carloto Cotta, Luisa Cruz, Fernanda Loureiro, Rogerio Samora, Ana Margarida Rabaca, Sabrina Lopes, Carlos Loureiro, Basirou Diallo, Anibal Fabrica, Paulo Carvalho, Wenwen Ye, Eduardo Raposo de Sousa. Voices: Miguel Cerqueia, Alberto Joaquim Novo, Sebastiao Almeida, Martinho Cerqueira, Vitor Vieira. (Portuguese, English, French, German, Mandarin dialogue)  

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3284178/reference

The number of films dealing head-on with the global economic crisis have been shockingly few, leaving the field wide open for someone with the creative complexity and storytelling verve of Miguel Gomes, whose three-part “Arabian Nights” tackles the subject with characteristic imagination and, unsurprisingly, righteous anger. While too early to tell how the trio of pics hang together, it’s possible to say from “Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One,” that audiences are in for a meaty opus that weaves actuality and allegorical fantasy into an outraged portrait of European austerity, witch doctors, the Portuguese politicos at their beck and call, and, most importantly, the unemployed masses. The project’s commercial viability is less clear, though art ouses will certainly find space.

It’s likely the films need to be released together, since clearly from the first entry they’re meant to be screened within a short period of time; weekends may be ideal, as the entire project clocks in at 381 minutes. The big question mark is: Will “Arabian Nights” transcend the helmer’s devoted fanbase to reach a wider audience? Given its sheer length, the answer is probably no, although the subject matter could beckon activists and legions of disaffected citizens furious at how the IMF and the World Bank seem deaf to the economic misery around them (in all honesty, however, the latter aren’t known for plunking down coinage for arty fare with multiple narratives).

Gomes’ devotees will delight in how “Arabian Nights” takes structural elements from “Our Beloved Month of August” as well as “Tabu” and stretches them even further: Using Scheherazade as the thread to bring together so many tales was a splendid move, allowing for all sorts of nonfiction and fiction stories to be woven together in a tapestry of frustration, melancholy and burlesque. Choosing Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s regular d.p. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom to lense the opus further cements Gomes’ reputation among his auteurist followers (though visual similarities are few).

Shot between 2013 and 2014, the pic stems from Gomes’ anguish at watching Portuguese society crumble under the outrageously heavy austerity burden imposed by European financial institutions. The director himself is seen early on running away from the film crew, his depression too much for the grand project he’s envisioned. Already we hear in voiceover men speaking of massive layoffs at the shipyards of Viana do Castelo, and this interchange between real people telling of their lives, alternating with fanciful storylines and outright satire, continues throughout Volume 1.

It appears Gomes himself, at least at the start, wasn’t sure how everything could fall into place. Intercutting the laid-off shipyard workers with discussions of a plague of wasps devastating the country’s beehives, he admits (perhaps disingenuously) that he doesn’t know how they connect, but he knows they must. Auds even marginally aware of Portugal’s economic plight can deduce that the wasps are like the European financial bodies, destroying indigenous industry.

From there he introduces Scheherazade (Crista Alfaiate), the classic storyteller who keeps one step ahead of her husband the sultan’s murderous impulses by telling a different tale each night, making him so eager to hear more that he allows her to live another day. Her first story (told on the 447th night) is the most outright satirical: “The Men With Hard-Ons.” Here, European bigwigs arrive on camels to tell Portuguese politicians they need to cut public expenditure by a ridiculous amount. On a stroll following an unhappy lunch, the group meets a wizard (Basirou Diallo) who offers them an aerosol spray that guarantees enormous, long-lasting hard-ons. Thrilled with their newfound prowess, the men relax their stranglehold on the nation’s economy, only to tighten it again when they discover that permanent erections have their disadvantages.

Next comes “The Story of the Cockerel and the Fire,” inspired by the true tale of Fernanda Loureiro, who was taken to court because her rooster disturbed one of her neighbors. The cockerel itself, in voiceover, explains that it crows to warn people of coming danger, like a fire that devastates nearby fields — clearly, some people don’t wish to be informed of what’s coming. The last of the stories in “Volume 1” concerns three “Magnificents” (actually two men and one couple) who speak of their helplessness and anger in the face of unemployment. Gomes combines this with a Jonah-like tale, furthering biblical parallels that occasionally pepper the proceedings.

At times it appears the director gets subsumed by wanting to fit in too much, so a truncated story of a Chinese emperor goes nowhere (could it reappear in the other volumes?), and a scene with Austrian schoolkids, connected to the “Hard-On” episode, feels a bit dangly. Obviously it’s hard to fully judge “Arabian Nights” from one installment, yet without question, Gomes furthers his Bunuelian bona fides with biting allegories of capitalism run rampant. He may have started as a “helpless, paralyzed director,” as claimed early on, but he discovered how to channel his anger into a series of tales that balance real voices of economic hardship with parables on both the destructiveness of blind, deaf economic theory and the ineptitude of local politicians who agree to excessive demands.

Widescreen lensing on 16mm gives the satisfying tactility of much of Gomes’ previous work, allowing for a richer palette in some of the tales yet maintaining a sobriety in keeping with the quasi-documentary elements. Music is a sweeping, powerfully used melange, moving from Rimsky-Korsakov to Arvo Part.

Popular on Variety

Cannes Film Review: 'Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight), May 16, 2015. Running time: 125 MIN. (Original title: “As mil e uma noites — Volume 1, o inquieto")

Production: (Portugal-France-Germany-Switzerland) An O Som e a Furia presentation of an O Som e a Furia, Shellac Sud, Komplizen Film, Box Production, Arte France Cinema, Arte/ZDF, RTP, Agat Films, RTS-SRG SSR production. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne, Germany.) Produced by Luis Urban, Sandro Aguilar, Thomas Ordonneau, Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade, Elena Tatti, Thierry Spicher, Elodie Brunner. Co-producers, Olivier Pere, Remi Burah, Meinholf Zurhorst, Alexander Bohr, Nuno Vaz, Francoise Mayor, Sophie Sallin, Sven Waelti, Gregory Catella, Robert Guediguian, Patrick Sobelman, Marc Bordure, Michel Merkt. Executive producer, Luis Urbano.

Crew: Directed by Miguel Gomes. Screenplay, Gomes, Mariana Ricardo, Telmo Churro. Camera (color, 16mm, widescreen), Sayombhu Mukdeeprom; editors, Churro, Pedro Filipe Marques, Gomes; production designers, Bruno Duarte, Artur Pinheiro; costume designers, Silvia Grabowski, Lucha D’Orey; sound, Vasco Pimentel; sound, Miguel Martins; assistant director, Bruno Lourenco.

With: Crista Alfaiate, Adriano Luz, Americo Silva, Carloto Cotta, Luisa Cruz, Fernanda Loureiro, Rogerio Samora, Ana Margarida Rabaca, Sabrina Lopes, Carlos Loureiro, Basirou Diallo, Anibal Fabrica, Paulo Carvalho, Wenwen Ye, Eduardo Raposo de Sousa. Voices: Miguel Cerqueia, Alberto Joaquim Novo, Sebastiao Almeida, Martinho Cerqueira, Vitor Vieira. (Portuguese, English, French, German, Mandarin dialogue)  

More Film

  • The Great Outdoor documentary series about

    Farm to Picture: Documentary Series 'The Great Outdoor' Chronicles a Life Gone to Pot

    Cannabis cultivation in the Emerald Triangle, the area in Northern California that has long been a go-to for growers, has a starring role in a new documentary series called “The Great Outdoor.” Funded by Flow Kana, one of the state’s leading cannabis flower brands, filmed by David Zlutnick, and executive-produced by Flow Kana co-founder Flavia [...]

  • 1982 El Gouna Festival

    Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival Puts Arab Helmers at Center Stage

    The upbeat state of Arab cinema will be on the screen and in the balmy air at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival (Sept. 19-27), which is steadily gaining traction in its stated ambition to become a key platform and solid driver for Middle-East producers. “This year was one the best for Arab cinema,” says Intishal [...]

  • Star Skipper Paramount Animation

    Meet Star Skipper, Paramount Animation's Magical New Trademark Logo Character

    Studio logos are powerful signals to audiences.  Multiple generations of moviegoers flipping through channels or scanning streaming titles have frozen at the sight of a desk lamp hopping across the screen, because it means a Pixar movie is about to play. Likewise, when a young boy lounging inside a crescent moon casts his fishing line into [...]

  • Sybil

    Cannes Competition Movie 'Sibyl' Finds North American Home With Music Box (EXCLUSIVE)

    Music Box Films has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Justine Triet’s darkly comic drama “Sibyl,” which competed at Cannes and had its North American premiere at Toronto in the Special Presentation section. Represented in international markets by mk2, the film follows the ambiguous relationship between Sibyl, a jaded psychotherapist (Virginie Efira, “An Impossible [...]

  • Kent Jones Directs 'Diane'

    Kent Jones to Exit New York Film Festival (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a surprise move, New York Film Festival’s director and selection committee chair of seven years Kent Jones will step down following this year’s 57th edition, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 13. The departure comes as Jones’ feature filmmaking career is taking off. Issues of potential conflicts of interest have arisen as his work has moved [...]

  • Ava-Mark-Split

    Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo Selected for SAG-AFTRA Foundation Honors

    Ava DuVernay and Mark Ruffalo have been selected by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation for its fourth Annual Patron of the Artists Awards. The awards will be presented on Nov. 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show benefits the nonprofit SAG-AFTRA Foundation and is not televised. Previous SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content