In the second major arc of Arabian Nights: Volume 2, The Desolate One, a giant fugitive cow appears and tells the tale of how it spoke to an olive tree that is immune to sadness. The tale that this segment tells – title “The Tears of the Judge” – concerns a trial regarding theft of furniture yet ends up involving the aforementioned cow and tree as well as a young man who feels that the “puss” is owed to he and every man, a genie under the control of a bad man, a landlord who pranks calls emergency workers and a machete wielding man who operates as a lie detector test. It’s an inspired chapter in its absurdity and, though it takes place approximately three hours into Miguel Gomes’ sprawling six hour epic, it is perhaps the crux of it all.
When The Desolate One begins, we are introduced to a man named Simeo via the tale “Chronicle of the Escape of Simeo Without Bowels,” a man who is able to “eat a lot but weigh a little.” Simeo wanders the vast, desert terrain with a rifle looking shaggy and perhaps a little menacing, an appearance that all too closely resembles that of The Last Movie era Dennis Hopper. Simeo is rumored to have a book of names of people to kill and passes time by having naked women sit on him as they slap each other. Which makes him quality material for a folk hero, which he becomes upon his arrest. It’s sort of like Child of God, minus the corpse fucking.
The final tale of The Desolate One is “The Owners of Dixie” and it’s the breeziest one so far. This is the segment that contains Lucky, the adorable poodle mix that won the Palm Dog at Cannes this year for his great work here. It concerns a dog that looks like a resurrected version of Dixie, the name which it is given by the woman who finds him. He is then passed around from new owner to new owner as we get to know the tenants of the apartment building the story is set in: the young rapper who records in his closet, the family who own a parrot that loses the ability to speak after eating a peanut, young children who observe their neighbors having loud sex through a hole in the wall, a group of women who sunbathe nude on the roof, and some tenants that thought it was a good idea to urinate in the elevator causing it to corrode and be inoperable. The tenants, as well as Dixie, are fascinating enough to watch that this could be a feature in its own right and its eccentricities are worn with pride.
The Desolate One is the crown jewel of Gomes’ six hour beast of a film and is officially Portugal’s selection for the 2016 Academy Awards – further proof that this really does work as three separate films – and is easily the most accessible of the lot. It’s consistently funny, almost too naturally weird, and features an adorable puppy. It may just be the best thing Gomes has done to date.