Review of Arabian Nights: Part 1 – The Restless One

Arabian Nights Trilogy. Photo via GAT. Arabian Nights Trilogy. Photo via GAT.

Portuguese director Miguel Gomes has a feast for anti-capitalist, anti-EU sponsored austerity and anti-IMF people of the world. Shot over a span of two years, Gomes brings to us the first of his Arabian Nights Trilogy that speaks to the crumbling Portuguese society under the heavy burden of the European Union-sponsored austerity.

With Crista Alfaiate playing the Persian inspired Scheherazade (storyteller), Gomes takes you through footage that documents everything that is falling apart in his country. Through the poetry of Scheherazade, we learn about the mass layoffs, poverty, chronic unemployment and rampant hopelessness. Gomes uses his humanism to bring to us into this first documentary of three parts, aptly called “The Restless One.”

The film is about the misery that plagues a country and its people. While Scheherazade has taken up the mantle of the tale’s narrator, for the filmmaker forsook his responsibility, the alternating 16 and 35 mm capture the inherent sense of hopelessness that is all-pervasive.

Quite a bit of the film seems disjointed, without a proper narrative, which Gomes confesses will fall into place when all three films have been seen as a continuous narrative. But this film is not about narrative or about a coherent argument. It speaks to the perilous situation that a society finds itself confronted by, without many available solutions at hand. This insiders’ look is engaging and only an introductory (of the 350 minute) window into Gomes’ lens through which he sees his own country.

Arabian Nights: The Restless One (Volume 1)

Arabian Nights: The Restless One (Volume 1)

The various sub-tales that make this first installment: “The Men with Hard-ons,” that is, the Europeans who travel on a moral high horse and demand that the Portuguese cut their spending, to “The Story of the Cockerel and the Fire,” where a rooster warns people of the ills that are to befall them. These are essentially attempts by Gomes in connecting dots to speak to the inadequacies of a system that is burdened by European bureaucracy and rule making, with no real solution in sight. I think the core of the message is the disconnect between overbearing European politics that fail to grasp local and more indigenous issues of its populace.

I’m very intrigued to watch the next two parts of this socio-commentary and look deeper into the thought process of someone who restlessly watches his country move to the brink and no real respite in sight.

Arabian Nights Vol. I: The Restless One screened at Cinema du Parc.