The latest from Miguel Gomes (Tabu, Our Beloved Month of August) Arabian Nights (As mil e uma noites) is probably this year’s most ambitious cinematic undertaking, and the most talked about film experience of the last Cannes Film Festival. Arabian Nights uses the framing device from the original Arabian Nights of the beautiful young Scheherazade telling tale after tale in order to keep her murderous husband from killing her—but that’s where the similarities end. Over three features, Gomes channels the current struggles of economically depressed Portugal through an assortment of tales that range from farcical yarns to grounded accounts of social issues.
Volume 1 – The Restless One: After opening with overlapping documentary portraits of a shipyard and a wasp-exterminator, the director appears on screen, contemplating his overly ambitious undertaking. From here, Gomes spins a satirical tale about the financial powers-that-be preying on Portugal’s vulnerability. Next up is the comic story of the role a rooster plays in a local election, followed by a sobering triptych of interviews with unemployed citizens.
Volume 2 – The Desolate One: The volume's opening chapter is about a criminal on the run. In “The Tears of the Judge,” a public trial becomes a mockery, with the testimony implicating everyone in attendance. Finally, The Desolate One ends on an exhilarating note, with a hugely entertaining story about a dog named Dixie who’s passed between owners, familiarizing us with the inhabitants of a working-class apartment building.
Volume 3 – The Enchanted One: Having escaped the palace, Scheherazade explores a seaside landscape where she encounters, among others, a “wind genie” and a daft suitor. This segues into a documentary-style exploration of the working-class sport of chaffinch singing competitions. Movingly and unexpectedly, the last gesture of Arabian Nights is to scale back its scope and provide a disarmingly modest and poignant grace note on which one of contemporary cinema’s new masterpieces can close.' (Vancouver Film Festival Catalogue)Arabian Nights is a joint acquisition of New Wave Films and MUBI.