Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights trilogy is an interesting project if only because its tone is inconsistent without harming the films. In fact, that inconsistency is what makes this project often work.
Arabian Nights Volume 1: The Restless One
The Restless One begins with an explanation of the economic background of the film, leading to the ousting of the film’s director and replacing him with One Thousand and One Nights’ Scheherazade. What results from that is an enjoyable and frequently beautiful series of stories, which seamlessly jump from realistic to the magical without releasing the viewer from its spell. This volume’s preamble was a bit long and the film only really picks up towards the middle, which affects it in the long run, but The Restless One does not disappoint.
Arabian Nights Volume 2: The Desolate One
Unlike most trilogies, there does not seem to be much of a difference between parts one and two in quality. The Desolate One continues to showcase the filmmakers’ abilities in both storytelling and beautiful imagery, resulting in stories which mix classic morality tales with modern political issues. Thankfully, the preamble, no longer necessary, has been removed this time around. Unfortunately, the first story (the story of a man named “Without Bowels”) overstays its welcome rather quickly and continues long after, but the other stories – particularly the courthouse sequence that immediately follows it – more than make up for it. The Desolate One is not only the best volume of the series, but may well be one of the best assembled films of the year.
Arabian Nights Volume 3: The Enchanted One
Almost as if by design, The Enchanted One quickly proves that perfect trilogies are a rarity. Like its predecessors, this third volume starts out on a bad note. The filmmaker turns it into a storybook – telling instead of showing, placing quotes from the book that it is meant to be adapting from across beautiful images the viewer now expects from the film. Unlike the earlier volumes, this rough start is not followed by something marvellous; the bad note becomes a symphony, with this ill-advised conceit staying with the film for its entire running time. This is doubly unfortunate because this volume is the most blatantly political, quickly turning the film into a didactic preachy mess. Since there is no continuity among these films, I would only recommend watching The Enchanted One if you’re the type of person that must finish what you start.
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