Scheherazade told the King bedtime stories to save her neck. In Arabian Nights Volume 1 – The Restless One, Migel Gomes tells stories to show the destruction of his beloved Portugal over a period of a year to show the devastating effect the European austerity measures had on Portugal. It is an inventive, surreal, visceral and surprising use of visual storytelling. The question is will you beguiled enough to sit through just over 2 hours of it. Not only will you be beguiled, you’ll want more, never fear, there are two further volumes.
This is the first in the trilogy of films from the writer and director Miguel Gomes. The writing was a collaborative one and when I interviewed Miguel he said all the stories in these films are all true, when you have watched the whole ensemble you question can that possibly be true but it is.
The Arabian Nights trilogy and I think you have to talk about them as a whole concentrate on a one year period from 2013 to 2014 and were filmed in that same year. So the action happened and then a week later the writing team led by Gomes sat down to write down the storey ahead of filming. It was shot over the year so part social commentary, part observation and a call for action – the laid off ship workers, the plague of wasps wiping out beehives. There are so many metaphors and symbols – foreshadowing what is to come. For Miguel Gomes, Scheherazade is the ultimate storyteller and though he’s never finished the entire Arabian Nights he liked the format showing the truth but in a a cinematic format. The story of the cockerel, the capitalists and their hard ons and then the scene of the unemployed going on their New Year’s Day swim are all moving.
Some of the stories told in Arabian Nights volume 1 are so visceral and all the more poignant given the social background. The absurd shown with the actual people not actors aside from the story of the men with hard-ons. It is Fernanda Loureiro who was taken to Court because her rooster was noisy and disturbed the peace of her neighbours that recounts the story in the story of the cockerel and the fire.Whose fault was it that Portugal found itself in this position: the government, individuals, the people or a mixture of the all of the former? Did people just not want to see the signs and hope they would disappear. Gomes leaves it to the viewer to form their own opinion.
Just as the real Scheherazerade would stop in the middle of the stories so does Gomes – it leaves you wanting more of some of the stories and less of others. It is a clever concept. As I said this is a surreal, surprising and inventive piece of filmmaking and something that should be watched. I enjoyed some stories more than others but isn’t that the magic of the original 1001 nights not all the stories are engaging and some are there to jolt you to action. Volume 2 is my personal favourite out of the trilogy and you should try and see each one. There’s no right way or wrong way to watch these films but remember each chapter within that particular volume is a vignette not a completed story but a spotlight on a moment. Just as we in the UK consider Brexit on 23 June, this is a timely and interesting observation on the effect that Europe had on a country told by the ordinary people of that country.
Arabian Nights – Volume 1 is released on 22 April across cinemas in UK.
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