Arabian Nights: Volume 2 - The Desolate One (15)

The second instalment of Arabian Nights baffled Simon Ramshaw - will he see the third?

9th May 2016

Another Courier issue, another futile attempt by Simon Ramshaw to say anything that sensical about Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights Trilogy. Here goes nothing…

Following directly on in Scheherazade’s storytelling narrative, The Desolate One is another three parables steeped in magical realism from modern-day Portugal. We have a man on the run, a judge with an ever-escalating pile of interwoven cases, and the story of a faithful pooch in a crummy towerblock. Gomes lets his self-aware meta-narrativity go wild, often choosing to let the characters within the episodes tell stories of their own, which is a real melon-twister when you consider Gomes is telling us a story about him telling a story about Scheherazade telling a story. Ugh.

That’s not a bad thing though, since the free-wheeling but confident hold on this Russian-doll-with-added-tangents structure proves to be the most interesting aspect of this middle film, as, on the whole, the episodes are less enthralling than the ones that came before it. Like the first film, the subtitle of The Desolate One is appropriate, as Gomes takes a slower, more meditative look at austerity in Portugal, particularly with the opening section, ‘The Story of Simão ‘Without Bowels’, being a tale sparse on details and heavy on implication.

"Gomes lets his self-aware meta-narrativity go wild, often choosing to let the characters within the episodes tell stories of their own"

The middle section here is the best, despite an extended repetition that threatens to derail the film at least twice. ‘The Tears of the Judge’ is an absurdist story where a simple dispute between two tenants and their landlord turns out to be influenced by a series of bizarre crimes involving marital rape, genies, fugitive cows, Triad leaders and a melancholy olive tree. It’s not exactly concise, but there are some golden moments among the satire that doesn’t really translate overseas.

I’m still refusing to rate this film, even though there’s a clear quality dip from the first film, so watch this space next week for the definitive star rating.

More like this: Wild Tales (2014)

Rating: No rating

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