Arabian Nights, Volume 2: The Desolate One, a welcome “rosary of wretchedness”
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2015: In this part Miguel Gomes conjures up a skinny bastard, a gang of dishonest idiots, and an underprivileged area brightened up by a loving Maltese dog
Volume 1 of the trilogy Arabian Nights (which is not an adaptation of the classic, although it is inspired by its structure) showcased by Miguel Gomes at Directors’ Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival (see the review) threw us into the anxiety of a Portugal in crisis and bluntly criticised the political forces responsible. In volume 2, entitled The Desolate One [+see also:
interview: Miguel Gomes
film profile], the ingenious Portuguese director continues to recount various real events that have recently taken place in his country in the form of absurd tales, but this time the tone is less corrosive and more entertaining, as if his anger has passed and he is free of it, leaving him to fully appreciate the absurdity of the situation and share his appalled mirth with us. At the same time, the stories that are told are less allegorical, and overall more discursive, played out along horizontal lines, giving this second chapter a legerity which offsets the heightened realism of the events being conveyed – all in all, Gomes continues to facetiously manipulate the border between truth and fiction.
In this part, more real-life events (gathered together for the film by three journalists) are portrayed than in part 1, but the pace is more frenzied if anything. This chapter, split into three stories, opens on the story of old bowlless Simão, an arsehole of a man, all skin and bones, who is wanted by police for killing his wife and daughter, but lives on the lam like a selfish king, dining under the stars on spit-roasted chicken and partridge, served by three young strumpets (as he is one of those “highly sophisticated sons of bitches” who eat and eat and never get fat). A group of scouts and a deflowering down the line, we find ourselves at an open-air trial presided over by a stern and clearheaded judge (Luisa Cruz), but the defendants, a mother and her licensed rapist of a son, (who everybody recognises as having a profoundly moronic look about him), blame a property owner who called the emergency ambulance services thousands of times for no reason, just to see the ambulances drive by. He in turn blames his actions on the depravity of a banker and his genie, leading the judge into a story of disgusting hazing which is nonetheless acceptable taking the context into account, then into those of stolen cows, a Chinese client of Tripadvisor, an elderly (or badly preserved) man who passed himself off as a homeless person for a TV show, and even a truly polite rapist.
After this desolate “rosary of wretchedness”, a remarkable little dog called Dixie comes along to reassure us, just as she does an entire community of labourers, the inhabitants of which we get to know through a series of numbered anecdotes, meshed together by a depressive elderly couple: there are the naked Brazilians, the children from 10A and the hole near 10B, the lift made rusty by the piss of revelers from New Year 2014… In short, as colourful as life in the block of flats of the Momo of Émile Ajar is, all this sadness, with Lionel Ritchie playing in the background, would be enough to drive a person to suicide without Dixie.
In the tale of tales that is Arabian Night, the stories are well and truly nested in one another like russian dolls, and are playful digressions. What is noticeable, and worth reflecting on, is that Gomes does not at all apply the method which the storyteller uses to guarantee her survival, by creating cliffhangers at the end of each story to force the Sultan to keep her alive another day. The little stories that Gomes spins are undeniably delightful, but too unlikely (despite their total truthfulness) to expect anything at all. At this point Gomes has us wondering if we will ever see the Scheherazade he promised us, who after four and a half hours of stories, has yet to put in an appearance. We’ll have to wait for part 3 to find out…
The trilogy Arabian Nights is a co-production between Portugal, France, Germany and Switzerland and is being sold internationally by The Match Factory.
(Translated from French)