In the third part of this magnum opus by Gomes, the filmmaker reveals his narrator as the voice of Scheherazade is finally unveiled to us. The Enchanted One, the last volume of the trilogy, begins with Scheherazade’s father’s tragic pangs of having given up his daughter, his beloved child, to the tyrant king. While Scheherazade escapes and finds herself in the midst of the sun soaked world of Baghdad and beyond, her own life reflections speak to how the young of Portugal feel.
This volume is different from the first two, as it doesn’t take the episodic route and after traversing the poetic sobriety of Scheherazade’s life, delves into the story of certain local bird-trappers. The bulk of the two hour part three is Scheherazade narrating her final tale, which tells of a community of bewitched, working-class bird-trappers who train chaffinches to sing for various competitions. This story goes back to the roots of the film’s genesis that speaks to the impoverished Portuguese working class. Most of these bird trainers are unemployed people, victims of the years of Portuguese austerity under the aegis of the bosses of the European Union. The story details how the birds are handled, trained and further delves into the hierarchy within the group of trainers and how some are revered for their years as such.
While nostalgic and humanistic to its core, this story completely turns Gomes’ cinematic style in the trilogy and falls back to a documentary-type narrative. It has been his modus throughout the three films to not let the audience know how the story will be told.
This volume of the exquisite cinematic creation by Gomes is a little burdened by long explanatory texts on screen, veering it to become more of an observational documentary. While the angst and heartache of a people is still the canvas he paints on, the film would have been better served by not having to explain everything, albeit done so for historical context.
What was unique about this three part story is that Gomes didn’t seem to care about length, mixing styles (documentary and fiction) or even choosing a narrator hidden for the most part for the length of two films only to be revealed in the third. The bold strokes of his artistic choices makes Arabian Nights a unique film experience. While something is to be said about solid, story driven, engaging narratives, there is always so much more to be explored in terms of style, pace, characters, to make cinema the medium that it is. Gomes made those bold choices and thus brings to us this three part monument that provides an unbeatable and extremely unique insight into a country, its suffering and perhaps the lost perseverance of its people.
This is surely a movie experience to be explored.
Arabian Nights: Part 3 – The Enchanted One screened at Cinema du Parc.