2 June 2016 | lasttimeisaw
Arabian Nights Volume Two, the high mark of the trilogy
A binge-watching of Portuguese auteur-in-the-making Miguel Gomes' Herculean ARABIAN NIGHTS trilogy, his fourth feature, the much-anticipated follow-up after TABU (2012), his critically acclaimed present/past diptych stunner.
Consciously informing audience beforehand with its caption - "The film is not an adaptation of the book ARABIAN NIGHTS despite drawing on its structure", the three volumes of ARABIAN NIGHTS constitute an expansive ethnic dissection of Portugal's burning mire, all the stories told by Scheherazade (Alfaiate) stem from events confined within a single calendar year from August 2013 to July 2014 in Portugal, when its people are stricken with economic austerity and become impoverished, implement by the government which Gomez denounces devoid of social justice.
The first story of Volume Two, the Desolate One, is the Chronicle of the Escape of Simão "Without Bowels", sets against an expansive rural canvas, the said Simão (Chapas), is a reticent old man wanted for murder, nimbly dodging drones and patrol policemen, or savouring the exclusive service of three young naked girls, the story retains a recondite vein of local mythology and improbably detached from the present time frame.
The Tears of the Judge, shocks with its opening shot of a man's penis with blood stains, evidently is the most progressive chapter to condemn the vicious circle of the social injustice, a litany of characters, including a genie (Alfaiate), a paper-made cow, a deaf woman (Martins), twelve Chinese mistress and a human-shaped lie detector (Mozos), accuse each other of wrongdoings during an open-air summary court presided by a female judge (Cruz), from law-enforce department, pensionary welfare to social service system, and its visa policy to attract rich people from non-EU countries, it has its sparks for its outlandish tableaux vivants and Cruz's engaging performance, but unfortunately it falls into a heavy-handed rampage in the end, which gets lost in its own mire of disillusion.
A third tale, the Owners of Dixie, achieves a high point both as a bitter social commentary and a touching humanistic elegy, eyes through the shifting ownership of a dog named Dixie, inside a tower block, where variegated residents dwell (a mesh-work well composed to give audience a glimpse of their lives), barely a happy soul due to the harsh economic environment, Dixie's company brings at least some precious delight and solace to his masters, and finally a master stroke materialises when Dixie meets his past phantom, caps the tale with a transcendent vibe.
Volume 2 augurs well for the final volume of the sage, the Enchanted One, seemingly out of a mandatory impulse, Gomez starts with the story of Scheherazade, who has become jaded in her role as a raconteur, she wanders around the island, bemoans that there are so many thing she has never seen, in spite of being the Queen of the kingdom, after brief encounters with sundry characters, including a breeding stud, the Apollonian Paddleman (Cotta, in his dazzling blond allure), an ingenious upside-down shot reveals the other side of her world, the latter-day Portugal, then Scheherazade reunites with her father, the Grand Vizier (Silva) on a Ferris Wheel.
Seen from a bigger picture, this ambitious passion project undeniably demands some formidable perseverance and energy to carry it off, whether its mammoth scale, its comprehensive execution or the lofty vocation to pinpoint a troubled society, each alone could be too overwhelming to debase its holistic value. But individually speaking, it is a portfolio composed of patchy works and buttressed by a miscellany of eclectic music selections. Volume 2 is absolutely the high water mark in comparison, which bears witness to Gomez's humanistic tendre in spirit and facility for conjuring up masterclass artistry in action, that's something worth expecting, hopefully in a more condense structure.