Two thirds through Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights and I never once felt fatigue and/or any sense of disinterest. For the first forty minutes of this third, and final, volume I was – as the title says – enchanted. The first third of Gomes’ final offering in his triptych is inspired and beautiful, calling to mind the most subtle segments of Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life with lush vistas and the most literal manifestations of Scheherazade in the entire saga. And then come the birds.
The Enchanted One starts out as bliss and quickly becomes some sort of running joke that only Gomes seems to be in on. Following our forty minutes with Scheherazade searching for pleasure, we are introduced to the majestic chaffinch. We are told of their importance to Portugal, the beauty of the songs they sing and pretty much any other detail you could ever want to know about this particular fowl. This final chapter is easily the most on-screen text heavy of the three, with likely a tome on chaffinch facts translated for us. And we even learn how to replicate the chaffinch song! WHISTLE. TRILL. STROKE.
This is a hard review to write, for the opening chapter of this volume may very well be the best thing in all six hours of its runtime, yet what follows is eighty minutes of Gomes trolling his audience. He knows that we have put more than four hours into this and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We have to see this through. And he takes that opportunity to give us an over hour long docudrama on the chaffinch. Which is perhaps fitting. Arabian Nights is a type of cinema that is not easily classifiable, its roots in regional filmmaking and storytelling are explicit, yet nowhere moreso than this last act. Even if it is all some bizarre joke from Gomes to the viewer, it leaves an impression that’s hard to shake and I certainly know way more about the chaffinch than I ever thought I would.
Gomes ends this final volume, and subsequently the whole saga, with a dedication to his daughter: “To Carolina Gomes who was 8 years old when we filmed the Arabian Nights and may she watch the film when she’s old enough and may she derive from it what she well pleases. And may she be happy. The end!” Despite the dedication following the saga of the chaffinch, it’s hard not to feel some sort of closure. Gomes’ work here is daunting and – for all of its eccentricities, flaws and annoyances – really charming. The final shot leading up to this, with swelling music and a man just walking, is strangely transcendent and triumphant. If Gomes truly is trolling us all, he’s doing so with utter fucking class. The Enchanted One will undoubtedly be the most polarizing volume of Arabian Nights but it deserves to be seen and seen through all of the way. There’s really nothing else like it.