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Critics reviews
Arabian Nights: Volume 2, the Desolate One
Miguel Gomes Portugal, 2015
Gomes welds two major stylistic and directorial strands he has manifested in his previous works into an unified directorial vision: the magical realism of his so-called musical comedies such as A Cara que Mereces (The Face You Deserve, 2004) and the docu-fiction of Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto (Our Beloved Month of August, 2008).
September 14, 2016
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Like Scheherazade, [Gomes] spins his yarns as a distraction for his safety, but one could also read Arabian Nights as a testament to the capability of stories and even the airing of grievances to sidetrack people from taking necessary action. The final installment of the trilogy shows Gomes working his way back to the real world after disappearing from it for hours, only to find that he can be just as experimental and fanciful as he was in the trilogy’s most abstract moments.
May 09, 2016
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Like the first volume, the film requires an investment on the part of the audience. But the cinematic language in which Gomes is working is immersive rather than strictly narrative. And as such, the occasional lapse of concentration hardly matters.
May 01, 2016
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This is some achievement: to have made each story completely different from the next and from the story that precedes it… Arabian Nights seems to say that the effects of policy – legislation meant to liberate Portugal of its debts – can look 1,001 different ways depending on the lens, depending through whose life we see economic reforms refracted. The triptych’s wending unpredictability appears to contest the kinds of forecasts used to justify punitive austerity measures.
April 01, 2016
Coscripted with Mariana Ricardo and Telmo Churro, the films deftly blend political satire, escapist fable, and reporting on the unemployed… The films are enchanting for their irony, their humanity, and their reflexiveness.
February 11, 2016
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A three-part, six-hour, funny, sad, ambitious, and frequently bewildering epic… Gradually it becomes clear that Gomes isn’t out to make a grand political statement, but rather to create a sweeping mosaic that reflects the confusion and vitality of life at the moment of the work’s creation. In this regard, ARABIAN NIGHTS suggests a cinematic analogue to the Clash’s triple album Sandinista! (1980), replete with in-jokes, sloganeering, and passages of failed experimentation.
February 05, 2016
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Viewed through the haze of Gomes’s film, the book emerges as a sumptuous, hyper version of the filmmaker’s previous works—above all, in the way that it offers lessons in stories that require the presence of another story: a work as an anthology. Gomes has always enjoyed combining two separate elements in a single film, and in Arabian Nights this technique is cosmically expanded. Each new story stylistically corrects or contradicts the story preceding it.
February 03, 2016
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Arabian Nights might be the clearest expression of Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘every film is a documentary’ adage since the French master’s own work in the late 1970s and 80s. I find it most satisfying to view Gomes’ film-thing as an almost ridiculously thorough nonfiction self-portrait of cinematic structures and ideas, laid bare in a specific place at a particularly sensitive moment in that place’s political history.
January 18, 2016
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It will take several more viewings to begin to come to terms with Gomes’ sprawling, six-hour, three-part epic of storytelling, documentary, political fable and autoportrait. And those four genres just scratch the surface of the fantastical and fantastically rich complication of visual and sound fantasias that Gomes puts into play… This deliriously overstuffed text extends what we imagine cinema can encompass, and dissolves boundaries that prevent us from thinking radically about our world.
January 14, 2016
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Gomes knows how to wrap an audience around his little finger—see Tabu for reference—but conscientiously keeps himself from slipping into a rhythm here, switching up time signatures in unexpected ways. These films are the work of a free man, and the exhilaration is infectious.
January 04, 2016
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Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights (which was shown in Bangkok last month) is actually a three-part film, each running for two hours, a hard-hitting and yet fabulous fact-fiction hybrid that looks at the impact of Portugal’s economic woes. Instead of submitting the whole six-hour film, the Portuguese director chose the second part, the most eccentric and perhaps most heartfelt of the three.
December 18, 2015
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The result is a thing of structural complexity, at times seemingly postmodern long before the modern even existed. One Thousand and One Nights is a dense, dizzying knot of nested stories that, taken as a whole, is as much an exploration of storytelling as it is a vast catalogue of human nature.
December 15, 2015
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The Desolate One" hangs together the best of the three chapters of “Arabian Nights” and feels the most coherent, the most touching, and perhaps the most accurate a representation of what it feels like to live in Portugal during the financial crisis. Gomes invites us in to his smoky, shabby yet hopelessly gorgeous home and waits for the power to go out, the water to run black and the landlord to hammer an eviction notice on the door.
December 11, 2015
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With its wildly associative structure, leapfrogging genres and modes of narration, the film functions, as Gomes says, as a kind of encyclopedia, a seemingly inexhaustible portrait of a world in which surrealist fantasy and nuts-and-bolts neorealism are inextricable fellow travelers, where wizards, phantom dogs, teleporting bandits, exploding whales, and subcultures of working-class bird-trappers coexist.
December 09, 2015
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Arabian Nights’ off-the-cuff, community-theater vibe ends up underlining its origins as a creative reaction to social and economic crisis. The movies may be, in part, about fantasy, but they always look like they’re from somewhere very real.
December 03, 2015
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Arabian Nights is not a major movie, but rather a messy sketchbook stuffing disparate short- and medium-length films into an unwieldily bulging casing. The conceit — Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights rejiggered as stories about austerity-oppressed Portugal — effectively allows Gomes to do anything he wants, and unfettered, rule-less freedom is not necessarily a good thing.
December 03, 2015
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The Tears of the Judge, a long, elaborate sequence that details an unconventional trial at which every attending onlooker proves culpable in the crime, is especially stirring and strange, proceeding with a nightmare logic and, in contrast to the vigor of the first episode, a pleasingly somnambulant mood.
December 01, 2015
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However you enjoy its nearly four hundred minutes, I expect you’ll be held rapt till the last second by a film of abundant wit and generous heart… This is a masterpiece not because it culminates in some redemptive catharsis or clinching argument for social change, but because, by disavowing such facile ends, it meets the mess of life on its own clear and true terms.
December 01, 2015
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This is heavy stuff, but Arabian Nights is not a six-hour exercise in miserabilism. Far from it, the film fires its political bullets through eccentric humour, madcap digressions, while most importantly, it shows generosity to acknowledge the faces of the men and women whose stories it is telling.
November 13, 2015
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Gomes knows all too well how cruel and chaotic modern life can be, but his film isn’t intended to solve the problems of the world. Arabian Nights prefers simply to follow them as they play out—and this perhaps is the greatest proof of its courage.
November 04, 2015
It is a record of a human history told through the alternately sarcastic, sincere and poetic voice of an uncompromisingly weird artist. Can we ask for more? Even if you don’t fall head over heels in love with “Arabian Nights”, I doubt very much that you’ll forget it.
September 27, 2015
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Reveries about nature overlap with portraits of economic exploitation, poverty, and desperation. That’s a bold gambit: Using the shape of myth to muse on the urgency of the present day. But it works. The film (or is it films?) is long and dense, but rarely boring.
September 26, 2015
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Arabian Nights is ultimately persuasive as a work of cinematic Shandyism, one where the author’s dexterity serves to endorse a view of humanity as a source of endless narrative and revelatory diversions. The trilogy’s constellation of local struggles—over a bleating cockerel, access to a public beach, or simple addiction and loneliness—attain an accumulating weight, as the underserved voices of Gomes’s Portuguese characters gradually begin to dictate the rhythms of Arabian Nights.
September 25, 2015
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Taken together, Arabian Nights is a film of parts, of sub-parts adopting and abandoning ways of storytelling. It’s a big, shaggy, fatty triptych with plenty of dead time or bland time with occasional moments of grace and brief glimpses of beauty.
September 24, 2015
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What a jump in quality! With this second part, Miguel Gomes seems more focused. He settles into his material. He’s comfortable enough to allow room for silence, for pauses, lingering on shots instead of hurrying to the next one, and the next.
September 24, 2015
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I don’t love everything in this year’s slate and I particularly don’t love “Arabian Nights,” a six-hour-plus, three-part indulgence from the Portuguese director Miguel Gomes. Yet this is also exactly the kind of work that makes sense for New York, which will help usher it into a wider movie conversation and, by programming it alongside “The Walk,” is insisting that Mr. Gomes and Mr. Zemeckis both belong in that conversation.
September 24, 2015
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Documentary passages (on chaffinch enthusiasts, laid-off shipyard workers) segue to elaborate fantasias (on ghost dogs, bow-tied cockerels, and other gifted animals) and, more often, to hybrids of the two. Not every passage in this six-hour-plus opus succeeds; “The Tale of the Men with Hard-Ons,” a jab at the IMF in the first film, is especially banal. But Gomes’s sheer ingenuity with storytelling structure and convention, not to mention his sound-track choices, often elates.
September 22, 2015
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As a work of art, The Desolate One is entirely conceptual, imposing an overarching framework on its stories purely as an exercise. This is cinema as experimental math equation, with Gomes plus-ing the basic template of One Thousand and One Nights and Portugal’s financial crisis to equal, well, nothing concrete beyond scant, absurdist musings.
September 22, 2015
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Split into three films, it’s an uproarious and scathing, compassionate and urgent outburst that runs more than six hours… Elaborate fantasies and raucous antics converge with Gomes’s view of an ostensible democracy whose citizens have lost control.
September 21, 2015
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It is certainly one of the most daring and bold cinematic experiments of the last decade. Gomes merges Godard (especially in the first tale in the first part of the trilogy, The Restless One), with Pasolini (throughout the film), Aristophanes (especially in the first two tales in the second part of the trilogy, The Desolate One), and Straub-Huillet (in the third part of the trilogy, The Enchanted One).
September 15, 2015
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it was the obvious choice for the FIPRESCI Critics’ Prize – for which I was on the jury – for its ambition, scope and boundless imagination. In a cinematic landscape where the financial crisis is often strangely evaded, Gomes’ tackles the austerity measures imposed on Portugal in unexpected ways.
September 15, 2015
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its schizophrenic structure and smart-aleck attitude can be frustrating, a projection of its maker’s pompous showmanship. It is here the film feels less selfless than a staggering work like The Assassin. Gomes’s flair for bombast might create multiple necessary jolts in the viewer, but its assessment of longstanding social issues and collective malaise exist within a closed-off forum mapped and painted not by discourse, but by the auteur’s need to be the loudest voice in the room.
July 13, 2015
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A monumental yet light-footed work that remains absorbed in the minutiae of existence, Arabian Nights is an up-to-the-minute rethinking of what it means to make a political film today. It is hard to imagine a more generous or radical approach to these troubled times—one that honors its fantasy life as much as its hard realities.
July 01, 2015
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It’s hard to think of another film, much less one addressing socioeconomic strife, that is quite like Miguel Gomes’s The Arabian Nights, comprising three separate volumes that embrace sprawl and variety in style and substance.
July 01, 2015
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[Gomes] continues to intertwine fiction and reality in a fascinating way, and even those who might have been underwhelmed by Arabian Nights—or decided to skip it entirely—can’t deny that more filmmakers should have the balls to attempt a project like this.
June 23, 2015
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Gomes’ 381-minute, tripartite opus As mil e uma noites (Arabian Nights) was, in this critic’s opinion, the single greatest new work unleashed at Cannes in 2015… [It’s] an ebullient work, with a liberatory impetus that combines rarefied artistic ambition with a refreshing simplicity of means.
June 13, 2015
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The entire film is essentially composed of a series of indulgences and digressions—some angry and some absurd, but all imaginatively composed and invigoratingly unconcerned with the boundaries of traditional storytelling. Nothing at Cannes could match its ambition.
June 11, 2015
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There may be more traditionally successful films released in 2015, but there won’t be any as monolithic, impassioned, euphoric, mad, or aesthetically and socially important as Arabian Nights… The result–which is mostly hit, a bit miss, always fresh–is a work so staggering, bold, and sui generis that it appears destined to be instantly canonized among the great works of 21st century cinema.
May 28, 2015
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An alternately playful and angry, hugely imaginative refracting of the titular folk tales through the prism of Portugal’s recent social and economic woes.
May 25, 2015
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While it could certainly have used trimming in parts, Arabian Nights is definitely worth the six-hour investment. In its boundless experimentation and sheer audacity, it’s the cinematic equivalent of such mammoths of postmodern literature as Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. To watch Gomes’ film entails a rediscovery of the potential of the medium of film, renewing one’s enthusiasm for its possibilities.
May 23, 2015
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As far as winging it goes, this is as extreme as it gets: the methods of news reportage and documentary applied to the fabrication of narrative. It pays off magnificently—at the very least, Gomes and his collaborators have invented an entirely new approach for looking at the real world through an optic that distorts it, defamiliarizes it, and restores to it a rich, poetic form of truth.
May 22, 2015
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The playfulness and variation of tone keeps each section fresh as it perpetually reinvents itself. You can almost feel the weight of “Arabian Nights” living along with Gomes over the period it was shot, as if the stories manifested naturally as he moved along.
May 22, 2015
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If [Scheherazade] told the stories to her king to stave off her death, I feel Gomes is telling me stories, among many others reasons, in order to stave off the powerful aura of respectable averageness prevalent at Cannes 2015. Arabian Nights Volume 3: The Enchanted One had me smiling for a good forty-five minutes in a row.
May 21, 2015
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Stories within stories within stories, the film, despite its limitations—each two hours, plus or minus, they each contain a certain amount of tales, and then come to an end—in this structure not only is freed to rove Portugal for the rich, odd incident, but suggests a project with an unquenchable thirst and an unlimited supply.
May 19, 2015
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While I’ll hold off on a detailed write-up until after I’ve seen the third installment, part two was funnier and more accessible than part one, and included darkly comic segments centered on a frustrated judge and a dog who’s passed from owner to owner. The canine is described “as much a love machine as he was a forgetting machine,” a sentiment that any pet owner will recognize.
May 19, 2015
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The crushing social impact of Portugal’s recent austerity policies remains the running theme here, though “Volume 2” features less stinging rhetoric than its predecessor, as whimsical satire gradually segues into observational tragicomedy. It remains to be seen on what note Gomes chooses to end his mammoth undertaking, but it’s already among the most stirring, stimulating works at this year’s Cannes fest.
May 18, 2015
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