Filipino director, Lav Diaz, once said of his epic, sometime 10+ hr films, is that he likes the idea that audiences could leave the cinema, go to work, then return and carry on watching. That his films just breathe, exist, like we do. Parts of Miguel Gomes’ 6.5 hour Arabian Nights felt like that to me; These ambling, slice of life portraits of modern day Portugal, structured in a style inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, as told by Scheherazade. They show a Portugal in the shadow of austerity, yet plugging on. Breathing, Existing.
For example, the final 90 or so minutes, entitled “The Inebriating Chorus of the Chaffinches”, is about a group of disparate men, some of whom we’ve met already, who engage in the hobby of trapping and training chaffinches for singing competitions. The section, much like the rest of the trilogy, is at once sublime and ridiculous; weaving together their everyday existences, with Scheherazade’s anecdotal, at times bizarre narration, shedding light on their insular world whilst birds tweet and trill constantly in the background.
I hope plenty of people, like the audience at the Picture House today, get to watch the Arabian Nights films as a whole. I think they benefit from being in close proximity with each other, especially the final volume. I also hope audiences go home and watch Gomes’ previous films; The Face You Deserve (which is on Mubi until the 22nd ), the critically lauded Tabu (2012), and the (in my opinion) masterpiece, Our Beloved Month of August (2008), both of which screened at LIFF 26.