Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 6:13 pm 
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MIGUEL GOMES: ARABIAN NIGHTS: VOLUME 2, THE DESOLATE ONE (2015)

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More meandering narrative from Gomes fails to deliver his message

Guy Lodge in Variety: "Only three tales are told here by the project’s wily mythical narrator Scheherazade, though one in particular sprawls and subdivides itself in such alluringly vine-like fashion that viewers will hardly notice 133 minutes ticking by." That is debatable. However, that long open air "trial" session, held under cover of darkness seemingly with a whole community presided over by a female judge, reminded me of both the actual Arabic 1001Nights, with its succession of sometimes outrageously fanciful and interrelated folkloric tales, and Abderrahmane Sissako's (incomparably superior) open air trial in his Bamako by representatives of the African people of the IMF and the World Bank in a public square where villagers go on pursuing their normal lives. There is an example of a brilliant wedding of politics, philosophy, and everyday life, which may be what Miguel Gomes is striving for. But while he becomes more involved in narrative and less preachy in Volume 2, he also rambles, his film as much of a messy hodge podge as Volume 1.

Gomes has fun with a classic storytelling tone with this summary: "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." There is a hint of self-satisfaction here,though, at the sheer richness of his own invention.

This is not all of it. The concluding section is a series of stories that take place in a poor housing development, which concludes with an old couple who give their found dog, Dixie (a Maltese poodle whose photogenic friskiness helps enliven things for a while) to an impoverished younger couple, and then commit suicide. Here Gomes comes back more clearly to his initial concern with Portugal's state of economic crisis and the failure of the austerity policy to address it -- though the woes of these people could exist in any economy. This segment made me think of Krzysztof Kieślowski's Decalogue -- another comparison that, like the Sissako one, leaves Gomes in the dust, sputtering for air, signifying little.

[I]Arabian Nights: Volume 2, The Desolate One/As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 2, O Desolad 131 mins., debuted, like Volumes 1 and 3, at Directors Fortnight at Cannes, and shown at over a dozen other international festivals, including the New York Film Festival 1 October. Screened for the latter for this review. A Kino Lorber release. U.S. Premiere.

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