Thursday, February 18, 2016

Arabian Nights Volume 3: The Enchanted One (February 20th and 21st at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[ARABIAN NIGHTS VOLUME 3: THE ENCHANTED ONE screens Saturday February 20th at 7:10 pm and Sunday February 21st at 8:50 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

If one were to judge ARABIAN NIGHTS VOLUME 3: THE ENCHANTED ONE solely on its first, 45-minute segment, it would rank as the most satisfying film of the trilogy. Sadly the remaining hour and fifteen minutes of the film, though not without merit, is not nearly as engrossing.

While still not technically an adaptation of the original Thousand and One Nights, THE ENCHANTED ONE begins by focusing on its own version of Scheherazade (Crista Alfaiate) as she ponders her inevitable fate. She has been able to stay the hand of her murderously jealous husband the sultan for over a year by keeping him enthralled with fantastical tales (some of which we’ve seen in the previous two volumes of ARABIAN NIGHTS), but she knows her luck can’t hold forever. And so fearing that she may die sooner rather than later, the lovely storyteller embarks on a journey to see and experience the world outside the palace walls while she still can.

Scheherazade’s journey is both magical and sensual in a way nothing in the preceding two volumes has been, but then this installment is called the “enchanted one”, so that seems only right. And while the fantastic does come to the forefront here, writer/director Miguel Gomes still manages to get across the political commentary that is at the heart of this series in a clear and compelling way. In particular, he shows the ways in which Scheherazade, her own troubles notwithstanding, has little knowledge of how regular people live. Even when she goes out amongst them, she often fails to grasp the true reality of their lives.

And then the film shifts gears to focus on a group of men who train birds called chaffinches to engage in singing battles. For about an hour we are absorbed in the minutiae of this world, with only a short digression for the story of a Chinese immigrant who has an affair with a married Portugese police officer. This portion of the film isn’t completely devoid of interest, but even if it weren’t such a jarring shift in tone, it still goes on too long and in too much detail.

Like the tales Scheherazade tells herself, THE ENCHANTED ONE ultimately leaves us hanging with her story unresolved. One could certainly make a strong argument that is as it should be, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s somewhat unsatisfying. Nonetheless, THE ENCHANTED ONE should prove a compelling film for fans of arthouse cinema, providing both the best and worst the trilogy has to offer. The sum of the parts makes it the least of the three films, but it’s still very much worth catching, particularly if you’ve already invested in the first two parts. 3 out of 4 stars.

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