ARABIAN NIGHTS: VOLUME 1, THE RESTLESS ONE
After opening with overlapping documentary portraits of a shipyard where hundreds of workers are being laid off and a man staving off an invasion of foreign wasps, the director appears on screen, contemplating his ambitious undertaking. From these beginnings, Gomes spins a satirical tale about the financial powers-that-be preying on Portugal’s vulnerability. Next up is the comic story of the role a rooster plays in a local election, followed by a sobering triptych of anecdotal interviews with unemployed citizens. Set just before the new year, they suggest that the turn of the calendar promises fresh troubles rather than new hope.
ARABIAN NIGHTS: VOLUME 2, THE DESOLATE ONE
This middle chapter of Gomes' shape-shifting modern-day folk tale is Portugal’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film. Scheherazade's enchanting stories of modern Portugal continue: an elderly criminal becomes a folk hero as he successfully evades hordes of police; a stern judge oversees a case involving 13 stolen cows, mail-order brides, a genie and a machete-wielding human lie detector; a Maltese-poodle named Dixie (winner of Cannes’ coveted Palm Dog) shuffles between households in a recession-stricken apartment block, observing the people as she goes.
ARABIAN NIGHTS: VOLUME 3, THE ENCHANTED ONE
In the final enthralling installment, the enigmatic narrator of the trilogy finally takes center stage. Scheherazade weaves tales to please the king and stay her own execution. Realizing she will soon run out of stories to tell, she escapes the palace for a seaside interlude where she encounters, among others, a “wind genie” and a bizarre suitor. Meanwhile, finch trappers offer a musical analogy for Portugal's 21st-century woes. Ending on a grace note of birdsong, Volume 3 brings to a close Gomes’ multifaceted critique of his homeland through the lens of the most evocative of all fairytales.
Chicago: Feb. 5 - 18 at the Siskel Film Center.