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Arabian Nights, Volume 1: The Restless One: Portugal as a beached mermaid

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- CANNES 2015: This first instalment in the rich docu-fiction of Miguel Gomes about a Portugal in crisis features fires in the rain, a talkative rooster and untimely erections

Review

The films of the facetious Miguel Gomes are always difficult to tell, insofar as each time, the Portuguese director explores the narrative itself and all its possibilities, multiplied by his approach - a plentiful piece, being screened as part of Directors' Fotnight at the Cannes Film Festival, well-thought-out by the army of producers that put together Arabian Nights, Volume 1: The Restless One [+see also:
trailer
film focus
interview: Miguel Gomes
film profile
]
, the first volume in his trilogy, a fluid docu-fiction, each part of which could, according to Gomes, be seen separately, but which the section headed up by Édouard Waintrop has chosen to screen in its entirety over a period of five days. It's not for nothing that Gomes chose to use the structure of a story within stories for this project: the stories that Scheherazade tells to survive the Sultan's death sentence, taking care to always leave each part of the story unfinished at the end of each day. 

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It is with this very exuberance, along with his cleverness and sense of humour which is cheeky and good-natured all at once, that Gomes' style shines through, although at first sight, the aesthetics of the film are very different from those of his biggest success until now, Tabu [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Miguel Gomes
interview: Miguel Gomes
festival scope
film profile
]
. For cinephiles familiar with his film This Dear Month of August [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
on the other hand, the continuity in the work of the forty-something Portuguese director is clear, as he never passes up the opportunity to work a mise en abyme of his cinematic vision into each of his creations, to use titles, stage directions and many other devices borrowed from other narrative forms, with a preference for popular forms, traditional or not (txt language makes a treacherous appearance here). Gomes gives full meaning to the Barthesian interpretation of the "larvatus prodeo": he does not advance masked, but pointing to his mask. And again he portrays animals that are both real and mythical at the same time: the crocodile in Tabu makes way here for camels, for a whale with an explosive stomach, for an overly talkative village rooster that becomes the main topic of discussion at local elections - in a village where voting is treated like one big joke.

As spiritual jokes aside, the subject of Arabian Nights is painful, and deals a head-on blow. Make no mistake about it: Gomes is talking here about his dear country as a murderous, impoverished nation which has been hit hard, these last two years, by the austerity laws brought in by an uneducated and self-righteous government, portrayed ridiculously in the story "The Men with Hard-Ons". Each of the "stories" in his magnificent saga is firmly anchored in reality: each story is based on various true events that three journalists collected for the film. In The Restless, "magnificent" unemployed people talk of their descent into the hell of precarity, forcing them into bins even, a social worker suffering from anxiety is cured in a blood-stained, putrid cave and a selfish blaze destroys hectares of land despite the driving rain. The simple and touching vitality of the Portuguese people holds strong, but it resembles a beached mermaid jolting and jerking on the sand. The tone of the film is gentle, but the critique of the political mockery is explicit, and in spite of his partialness for the spectacular, Gomes takes no prisoners. "Next year can't be worse than this one", says one character. The story ends there. Like Scheherazade's stories, those of Gomes are stories of survival, and it is on this minimally optimistic phrase that The Restless leaves us, whilst a village laid bare throws itself to the sea. What happens next will follow in the next instalment...

The Arabian Nights trilogy is a co-production between Portugal, France, Germany and Switzerland and is sold internationally by The Match Factory.

(Translated from French)

photogallery

international title: Arabian Nights - Volume 1, The Restless One
original title: As 1001 noites - Volume 1, o inquieto
country: Portugal, France, Germany, Switzerland
sales agent: The Match Factory
year: 2015
directed by: Miguel Gomes
screenplay: Miguel Gomes, Telmo Churro, Mariana Ricardo
cast: Joana de Verona, Diogo Dória, Gonçalo Waddington, Rogério Samora, Adriano Luz

main awards/selection

Cannes Film Festival 2015Directors' Fortnight
La Rochelle International Film Festival 2015 
Vienna International Film Festival 2015 
Dublin Film Festival 2016 
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