Arabian Nights Volume 1, film review: ‘Hotch potch of magic realism and social document’

Arabian Nights Volume 1

Arabian Nights Volume 1 - Credit: Archant

This is a long film, six hours across its three parts.

There are many long films but not so many long films that start with its director declaring it to be a bad idea.

The bad idea is to try to express some real stories of misery suffered in austerity-crushed Portugal between August 2013 and July 2014 through the filter of a loose reworking of the Arabian Nights.

The result is a strange, not wholly satisfactory hotch potch of magic realism and social document.

The first Tale is a satire of the country’s leaders’ dealings with the Troika of bankers, EU and IMF that control it, that is both silly yet fierce.

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The rest of the film is more documentary based, often simply ordinary people telling their hard luck stories straight to camera, but with the occasional surreal inventive flourishes.

If I were one of those people I’m not sure how I would feel: would I be grateful that my experiences were being presented to people or irritated that it was then getting obfuscated into an obscure and, let’s be honest, quite elitist, slightly dull art film?

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One thing the film does achieve is to match the rage and hopelessness felt by the Portuguese people.

Gomes may be right about his film being a bad idea but no matter how much he tries to jumble things up, put his artist stamp on things, the people’s despair comes through loud and clear and that is the project’s saving grace.

Volumes 2 and 3 are out in the next two weeks and will be available on MUBI in May.

In Portuguese with subtitles.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

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