Editor’s Note: Arabian Nights Trilogy was chosen for Wavelengths at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, and is currently showing as part of TIFF’s New Releases Program, from January 8 through January 14, 2016.
In a single word, Miguel Gomes’ 6+ hours Arabian Nights Trilogy is disappointing. Featuring three separate films, distant in content but similar in theme, Gomes crafts, at times, quite a commendable series. Yet, for trilogy of its length, Gomes’ work only treads water on the themes it presents to the audience, and doesn’t care to explore them in depth, something that seems baffling due to its extensive runtime. There are positives with Arabian Nights Trilogy, yet these positive are weighed down by the negatives, pulling the trilogy down to the worst thing it can be: disappointingly mediocre. There’s a certain connotation, and a certain expectation the audience holds when venturing into, what is set up to be, a modern-day epic. Yet, Gomes retains very little of what the audience expects, and goes in his own direction – experimenting with the filmmaking medium, the linearity of storytelling and the adaption of his source material. And though his attempt and ambition is praiseworthy, Gomes’ direction and pacing seems more appropriate for a film of shorter length – one in which he could’ve condensed the exploration of Portugal into concise, important facts.
There are positives with the Arabian Nights Trilogy, yet these positive are weighed down by the negatives, pulling the trilogy down to the worst thing it can be: disappointingly mediocre.
That isn’t to say, though, that the Arabian Nights Trilogy doesn’t have anything going for it. As he showed in 2012 with Tabu, Gomes is an innovative filmmaker – one who, without the influence of others, creates atmospheric films, which are important to himself. Again, Gomes shows sparks of his genius with Arabian Nights, namely with Arabian Nights Vol. 2: The Desolate One. Yet though The Desolate One is surely the most accomplished and engaging in the series, there seems to be something missing from Gomes’ latest work – a personal touch that distinguishes Gomes’ direction. The whole Arabian Nights Trilogy seems quite distant from Gomes as a filmmaker, rather than something he passionately created for himself. The same comparison could be made of Terrence Malick’s work, as his 2012 effort To The Wonder seemed to have something missing, yet the release of Knight of Cups in 2015 showed a more confident director – someone who was assured of the content he was releasing on the screen.
As a filmmaker, Gomes seems hesitant with his execution – never fully exploring any of his presented themes in depth, and never executing his visual experimentation to its fullest extent.
What Malick was lacking in To The Wonder is exactly what Gomes is lacking in his Arabian Nights Trilogy, though not to the same extent. As a filmmaker, he seems hesitant with his execution – never fully exploring any of his presented themes in depth, and never executing his visual experimentation to its fullest extent. Perhaps it’s the limitations that come with adapting other source material, or perhaps Gomes truly doesn’t feel a personal connection with the content he’s making a film on; only he will know. But certainly, it translates to the audience, and for a film with such a monster runtime, it’s disappointing to sit through a film, which seems abundantly unsure of itself. Because of this, the Arabian Nights Trilogy struggles to find its own voice, and become the important, sophisticated film it’s set out to be.
Though there are certainly bits of evidence of Gomes’ genius in the Arabian Nights Trilogy, there’s not enough to sustain the viewer’s attention throughout the runtime. Many of the stories carry a fantasy-esque atmosphere to them, but because of Gomes’ lack of confidence in his filmmaking techniques, he’s unable to sweep the audience away into the world of these characters – something necessary for a film of this nature. There’s little in the way of character development or exploration, but it’s important in understand that these films are directed towards exploration of a broad theme, rather than the characters. But, Gomes seems to shy away from doing that in its entirety as well, which leaves the audience with a confused, mediocre, long and relatively unsatisfactory 6+ hour trilogy about, at the end of the day, nothing especially significant.
Miguel Gomes' Arabian Nights Trilogy shows moments of genius and innovation, but overall lacks insight and confidence, especially in the fantasy sequences.