The latest work by celebrated Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes (b. 1972) is a three-part, six-hour epic that takes inspiration from the “Arabian Nights” to weave a sprawling tapestry of tragicomic tales of hardship and humanity set explicitly, and metaphorically, in present-day Portugal. The multiple voices that enriched Gomes’ earlier films Tabu (2012) and The Face You Deserve (2004) give way to the boisterous chorus of strange and beguiling contemporary folk tales released by his Scheherazade, fables that often spin into the realm of a wry magical realism while inevitably pointing to the underlying story that unites them all: the extreme financial crisis gripping Portugal today. Eschewing any traditional screenplay, Gomes worked over the course of twelve months (starting in August 2013) with a team of journalists to collect and adapt actual stories that took place across Portugal and that somehow refract the austerity measures imposed upon the nation. A poignantly and often absurdist meta-fable of dignity and despair, Arabian Nights gives gravitas and comic grace to the struggles of the working and middle classes so clearly admired by Gomes. A masterful work of cinematic storytelling, Arabian Nights derives much of its visual lushness and overripeness from the dazzling cinematography of regular Apichatpong Weerasethakul collaborator Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. – Haden GuestSpecial thanks: Gary Palmucci—Kino Lorber.
Directed by Miguel Gomes. With Miguel Gomes, Carloto Cotta, Crista Alfaiate
Portugal/France/Germany/Switzerland 2015, DCP, color, 125 min. Portuguese, English, French, German & Mandarin with English subtitles
Gomes’ opening volume unfolds three unexpected tales about Portuguese life, labor and economic free fall that creatively blend fact and fantasy into vivid fables lurching between hilarious and tragic. A strange magic unites the stories, giving a dream logic and clarity to even their most improbable incidents: a talking rooster on trial for crowing too early in the morning, a mermaid released from an exploding whale, a group of impotent economists seeking a cure. Most touching in The Restless One are Gomes’ documentary encounters with unemployed Portuguese whose sober voices bring a heartrending humanity to his epic project.
Directed by Miguel Gomes. With Crista Alfaiate, João Pedro Bénard, Isabel Muñoz Cardoso Portugal/France/Germany/Switzerland 2015, DCP, color, 131 min. Portuguese, English, French, German & Mandarin with English subtitles
A dark whimsy weaves through the second and most spirited volume of Gomes’ trilogy, which opens with a rollicking and morally disorienting adventure: the escape of a serial killer who gradually becomes a folk hero by eluding the police. The subsequent stories tell of an absurd and seemingly unending trial over crimes that fantastically multiply and the ragged misadventures of a Maltese poodle whose lonely search for new owners in a bedraggled apartment complex gently recalls Umberto D’s neorealist canine.
Directed by Miguel Gomes. With Crista Alfaiate, Bernardo Alves, Chico Chapas Portugal/France/Germany/Switzerland 2015, DCP, color, 125 min. Portuguese, English, French, German & Mandarin with English subtitles
Gomes closes his trilogy with a fascinating blend of delirious fantasy and melancholy poetic realism that travels from ancient Babylon to present-day Lisbon. The Enchanted One refers to Scheherazade, who opens the film by recounting the feverishly romantic tale of the many strangely talented suitors who vie for her affection. The majority of the film patiently follows a team of amateur bird trappers enamored with their prey to which they teach new songs for a long-awaited competition. Like the fragile birds kept in cages, the lonely workers are capable of endearing magic but remain helplessly cut off from the rest of the world, emblems then of Gomes’ country’s vast potential and precarious state.