Disclaimer: over the next three weeks, I’m going to be reviewing Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights Trilogy, piece by piece. So, I’m going to refrain from rating this until I see the third film, The Enchanted One, since it would otherwise be like rating a single act of a film as opposed to the complete work. Which is exactly why Volume 1: The Restless One is going to be a bitch to review.
Apart from the general buzz surrounding Arabian Nights’ colossal length and its domination at Cannes’ 2015 Director’s Fortnight, I went into the first part essentially blind. So imagine my surprise when Miguel Gomes himself appears in the film, having a crisis about making a documentary on the turmoil of Portugal’s shipyard workers, the majority of which are now working as wasp exterminators. It’s a nervy, self-conscious opening, and you get the feeling the film is looking over its shoulder at the producers, who may be waiting to fire the director at any second. Sure enough, they are, and threaten to kill Gomes unless he tells a better story in a more interesting way.
“It’s a nervy, self-conscious opening, and you get the feeling the film is looking over its shoulder at the producers, who may be waiting to fire the director at any second”
Cue Arabian Nights, an impressive experiment that is something between a smorgasbord and a Russian doll in terms of structure, with people telling stories about people telling stories about people telling stories. Everything centres on the austerity crisis Portugal are experiencing at the moment; a narrative we Brits can relate to all too well. This works exceptionally, so even when the allegories range from an exploding whale carcass to a prophetic cockerel, Arabian Nights has a genuine, earnest and important heart behind it.
But be warned, the subtitle of The Restless One is a statement of intent if I ever saw one, so keep an open mind as Gomes gives us a tour of his politics and his artistic influences. Truly unique polemic filmmaking.