Friday, October 2, 2015

A rambling response to Arabian Nights Volume 1: The Restless One (2015) New York Film Festival 2015

I have only seen one part of Miguel Gomes epic riff on the politics of Portugal told via ala the frame work of the Arabian Nights. I have only saw the first of three parts because that's the only way it fit into my schedule. I had been hoping that the festival would have either screened the whole six and a half hours in one go for the press or during the festival, but that was not to be. (there was a huge amount of sadness in the press corps because many of us love when we get to spend a whole day with one movie.) The decision as to whether I would review the one part or wait until I saw them all came down down to a point- how did I feel about continuing when I was done.

When the film ended and the lights went up my feeling was that unless I could go right into the next film or see it with out too much trouble I would be okay never seeing another part. Yes I will be making an effort to see the remaining four and a half hours but at the same time unless I can see it all in one sitting I'm not going to make the time going back and forth to the theater three times (For the record the film opens in New York in December with one piece opening one a week for three weeks)

This isn't to say that the film is bad, it's not, and it becomes more interesting as it goes on, rather its not great, or at least this part isn't. Its good but it's not great.

Told in a style that is generously described as rambling the film begins with three stories being told at once: First that of a closing ship yard, Second the story of how wasps are killing off honey bees. And third the story of the director who has a nervous break down not being able to connect the first two stories. This leads into the director and his crew being arrested and sentenced to die. Desperate to survive the director spins a story that is a modern telling of the Arabian nights. From there we get the story of ministers and bankers with magical hard ons, a crockrel on trial for crowing too much, a love story and a guy having heart problems as he tries to put a January first swim together. There's more to it than that but its a start.

My problems with the film comes from two places. First this is political film that says up front is tied to the collapse of the Portuguese economy in 2013 and 2014. If you think I have any idea what happened you'd be wrong so any and all allusions to real world events were lost. Secondly this film is all over the place- I mean all over the place. Real world mixes with made up. Reality mixes with fantasy (when the whale above explodes a mermaid ends up on the beach). Things happen because it seemed like a good idea at the time. A love triangle is played out by children in the middle of the cockerel story. Why? no clue. Its well done but I have no idea why it's inserted.

Oh and everything kind of references everything else in ways that make you realize you have to really be paying attention.(This last point was brought home when I was trying to explain a part late in the film to some one who missed a passing reference early on)

I know the film is getting a great deal of love from the critical community but what I want to know did they see it all in one go and did they get cheat sheets? This is a film I suspect has cheat sheets floating around that connect everything.

I do like the film but this was the first part of three. There is just way too much to hold in my head until I can see the next volume some time in mid December.

To be fair I'll run a new review of it all once I see it all.

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