Miguel Gomes's three-part remix of Scheherezade’s classic tales explores a contemporary Portugal post-financial crash
At the start of Arabian Nights, director Miguel Gomes runs away from his own film, but it sometimes feels like this gargantuan project has run away from him. Riffing on the structure of One Thousand and One Nights, with a series of stories nested within each other, his trilogy explores a contemporary Portugal where the working-class population has been left in dire straits following the 2008 global financial crash.
Across six hours, the film blends documentary-like realism with fantasy sequences and absurdist, lowbrow humour, and the end result is, perhaps inevitably, the definition of a mixed bag. While Gomes conjures some magical and hilarious moments, other scenes feel aimless, with the chaffinch-focused third instalment proving to be a particularly testing experience.
Arabian Nights is an astonishingly bold and beautiful adventure, and there’s too much here for the film to be dismissed, but it’s also hard to fully recommend something so unwieldy and frustrating. Still, dog lovers should take note that canine star Lucky is the star turn here, fully deserving of the Palm Dog award that he received in Cannes.