All good things must come to an end. The Enchanted One is the last piece in the puzzle of Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, a rambling odyssey through austerity-hit Portugal via Baghdad in the age of antiquity. Just as enigmatic and eclectic in terms of style, construct and tone as its preceding volumes, the finale plunges deepest into the mystical and mythical origins of the story from which its structure is taken. Volumes One and Two may have had viewers scratching their heads, and this portion of the film is by no means conventional, but there’s a musicality and dreamlike quality to The Enchanted One which resonates long after a tremendous tracking shot of Chico Chapas draws this sprawling epic to a close.
Scheherazade’s father, the Grand Vizier (Américo Silva), is the first to demonstrate this contemplative spirit. There’s a greater element of performance in The Enchanted One and in its opening moments a woman captivates an audience through dance. The Grand Vizier mistakes her for his long-departed wife, a ghostly image painted on the screen and in his mind’s eye during a mournful monologue. As if hearing her father’s sorrow, Scheherazade replies with a letter telling of her own marital woes, the characters seem able to communicate on a higher, inexplicably ethereal plain. As our leading lady sets out on her own voyage of discovery text frequently fills the screen to describe characters, places and legends along the way. Filmed off the rocky coastline of Marseille and surrounds, interaction occurs in both French and Portuguese and the natural beauty of setting parallels that of Crista Alfaiate’s queen.
A counterpoint to the predominance of contemporary times at the beginning of The Restless One, the past dominates early proceedings here. A shift occurs in arguably the best moment of all three films where father and daughter share an intimate moment of counsel and mutual support on a Ferris wheel, captured by a superb long take. A complete change of direction brings us into the present with The Inebriating Chorus of the Chaffinches. Sitting in a bar, chatting over a beer, men do not discuss women, the weather or the weekend’s football results, but birdsong. They are drunk on trapping, training and competing to see who can master the art of whistles, trills and strokes. Unemployment and an impoverished quality of life are ever-present elephants in the room and although their prized possessions offer rudderless men a passion, discipline and commitment, their indifference, even ignorance, toward manifestations and union protests is noteworthy.
With Arabian Nights, Gomes has set out to demonstrate that the Portuguese government was “devoid of social justice.” He achieves his aims but there’s a bitter sense – from the old lady wasting her vote in The Restless One to the total disengagement of chaffinch-obsessed men here – that the people of Portugal need to help themselves, that waiting on a helping hand is simply not enough, that apathy is only aggravating already dire circumstances. Whether this vicious circle has or will be broken is left unspoken upon the open-ended conclusion that this peerless work merits. It offers neither hope nor judgement and these three distinct works are all the more brilliant for it.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens