Arabian Nights: Volume Three – The Enchanted One
One could only be looking forward to the third and final volume of Portuguese director Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights trilogy. Surrounded by much anticipation, Arabian Nights: Volume Three – The Enchanted One closes an ambitious reinterpretation of princess Scheherazade’s story, adapted to convey the filmmaker’s critical view of Portugal’s political and economic situation. Following the crisis of the early 2010s and the subsequent monetary sanctions, the devastating effects of this burden on the whole of the Portuguese population are explicit.
The Enchanted One takes two directions, breaking slightly with the strictly episodic structure of the previous films. The beginning dedicates a fair amount of time to the storyteller herself, threatened with beheading by King Sharyar. With an elegant and painless shift, the camera fluctuates to an earnest documentary about bird-trappers in modern-day Portugal. If it were not for the presence of Scheherazade’s words, the second half of The Enchanted One could be an independent account of this community of men passionately capturing and training chaffinches. Abandoning voiceover, Gomes adds text, using the same formulae as the literary source, to caption the documentary images. Yet something still lingers between fiction and non-fiction, belief and evidence: being told anecdotes about events not shown in the picture, there is still the same mystery as in Scheherazade’s tales about magic creatures. Gomes has audiences holding their breath in amazement, even in the face of the apparently mundane.
The montage of The Enchanted One frequently embarks on surprising collages, merging an eclectic mix of footage from Bahia concerts, metal bands and real videos of protests with fictional scenes, adding double exposures and special effects to the elixir. The characters themselves are fusions of the most disparate elements. With turban-clad fishermen wearing football shirts and breakdancing, ordinary bird-trappers encountering wind genies, and characters from other volumes of Arabian Nights suddenly reappearing, the film oozes a charming timelessness. Compared with the first two chapters of the trilogy, Volume Three is possibly the most cryptic: The Enchanted One remains perhaps the least accessible, but film buffs and art house fans will be thrilled.
The Enchanted One ends the magic voyage between the veiled curtains of Arab courts and crowds protesting in Portugal. Miguel Gomes closes his captivating cycle of films with an enigmatic but undeniably enchanting production, and, like King Sharyar, we just long to hear more.
The Arabian Nights: Volume Three – The Enchanted One is released in selected cinemas on 6th May 2016.
Watch the trailer for The Arabian Nights here: