Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category



Turkey being in the news lately, this is a good moment to do an overdue post on this fine Turkish film that opened in France in June to top reviews and audience acclaim—it did exceptionally well at the box office for a movie entirely in Turkish—and is France’s official entry for the Academy Award for best foreign language film. That’s right, France’s entry, the selection committee here considering it French, as it is a French co-production and director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has lived in France for most of her adult life (a good, engaging film though it is, this is ridiculous IMO, as the pic is 100% Turkish—there’s not a thing French about it—and there is one French film this year that should by all rights be France’s Oscar entry).

The story is simple. Five orphaned sisters in their teens and tweens live with an uncle, aunt, and grandmother in a big house in a village on the Black Sea somewhere near Trabzon. They’re sassy and full of life—and all pretty—but when their patriarchal uncle—who no doubt votes for the AKP—learns via village gossip that they’ve been flirting with boys after school and are, generally speaking, too free-spirited, he decides—with the willing assent of wife and mother—to pull them out of school and lock them in the house—allowed out only when closely chaperoned—so as to preserve the family honor, i.e. the girls’ virginity, until they can be married off (the uncle, who so fears his nieces’ putative sexuality, is naturally a pervert and rapist himself). The sisters, who are as close to one another as siblings can be, develop all sorts of schemes and strategies to break out of their prison. Some good and amusing scenes here, but also tragic ones. The sisters, all played by non-professional actresses, are great.

The film is a paean to feminism and the struggle against patriarchy and idiotic codes of honor regarding female sexuality in societies that have not entirely completed the transition to modernity (if one wants an explanation of the French Oscar choice, there you have it). But while the conservative family guardians and other villagers are frozen in archaic ways of thinking about gender, not everyone is. The sisters have sympathizers, indeed allies, on the outside. It’s a Turkish story. Two of the sisters, led by the youngest one—and the most audacious and rebellious—12-year-old Lale (actress Güneş Nezihe Şensoy; A Star Is Born…), dream of escaping to Istanbul, 1000 km away—Lale’s last schoolteacher, a feminist (who certainly votes CHP, maybe even HDP) is there—and (spoiler alert!) ultimately do. Istanbul symbolizes freedom—freedom being another of the pic’s leitmotifs (and thus the title). One feels their exhilaration as they cross the Bosphorus bridge at dawn on their long bus trip from the world they’re fleeing. US critics who saw the pic at Cannes last May, though noting minor issues, all gave it the thumbs up (more than one made reference to Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’—which I have not seen—and Pride and Prejudice). US and UK release should happen early next year. Trailer is here.

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In yesterday’s post I dumped all over Woody Allen’s latest film, which I saw last night. In the interest of cinematic fairness and balance, I want to give a shout out to this first-rate thriller by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, which I saw three nights ago. If one doesn’t know by now—as the pic opened in the US last month to wide release—it’s about Mexican drug cartels and US law enforcement, set in Arizona, Texas, and across the border in Mexico (sicario means ‘hitman’ in Mexican drug cartel slang). It’s high-octane, edge-of-your-seat, with one great set piece after another, and excellent acting: Emily Blunt is terrific as straight arrow FBI agent Kate Macer—she should receive at least an Oscar nomination for her performance—Benicio del Toro as the shadowy killer Alejandro, who works with the Americans (and for himself); and Josh Rogin as the equally shadowy secret agent Matt Graver (CIA? who knows?). And the pic has no significant flaws, except for maybe the traffic jam scene at the border (isn’t there a VIP lane on that bridge?). There have been a number of Mexican drug cartel movies over the years—some quite good (e.g. Miss Bala)—and that graphically depict the violence and cruelty of the Mexican gangs—whom ISIS has nothing over when it comes to this—but this one is much the best, as it also has an implicit political theme: of the lawless behavior of the US government and its agents as they pursue the (endless, impossible) war against the drug cartels. It’s not par hasard that several of the badass US agents served in Iraq, the link between the war over there and the one here being made more than once. As the cynical Matt Graver informs the naïve Kate Macer, it’s a new world out there and with new rules, i.e. none really.

US reviews of the film are tops (81 on Metacritic; see, in particular, the ones by Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter and Scott Foundas in Variety), as well as in France (4.0/4.0 on Allociné). Trailer is here.

I saw and liked Villeneuve’s 2010 ‘Incendies’ but missed his last film, ‘Prisoners’. I think I should now see it.

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Irrational Man


I just saw this. This very evening, at my local cinéma municipal (there was a line). Woody Allen has a film a year and that I see without fail—I’ve seen all 47 or whatever films he’s directed—usually in the week or two after it comes out (this one arrived in France ten days ago). I see them all because I am a lifelong Woody Allen fan (since age 16, to be precise) and have not joined the legions of cinesnobs who decreed in the ’90s that Woody Allen had gone downhill, that his films were ergo sans intérêt, and that they (the cinesnobs) would ergo no longer deign to see. Now of Woody A.’s 47 or whatever films since the mid ’60s, there are seven or eight that I disliked, and with a larger number—particularly among those from the early ’90s onward—that were watchable or not bad but of which I remembered little to nothing not long after seeing them. And he has not had an incontestable chef d’œuvre since the mid ’80s (‘Hannah and Her Sisters’). But I give the thumbs up to most of his films, including those of the past ten years, with three or four exceptions (okay, that’s 30-40% thumbs down or bof, but still).

As for this latest one, I will say categorically: I hated it. It may well be—in my book at least—Woody A.’s worst film ever. I started to dislike the pic from the opening scene, with the dislike increasing as the film progressed, and culminating in outright hate at the end. Storming out of the cinoche, I declared to the ticket-seller: “C’est le plus mauvais film de Woody Allen que j’ai jamais vu, et je les ai tous vu! C’était nul!” On the opening scene: Joaquin Phoenix’s character, a tortured but reputedly brilliant philosophy professor named Abe Lucas, who has a new job at a fictional liberal arts college in Newport RI, arrives in his Volvo (what else?), dressed like a slob, drinking whiskey (single malt Scotch) from a flask (which he does all day), and acts like a jerk (though which does not seem to rub any of his campus colleagues the wrong way). At least four clichés from the get go. Lucas may be an insufferable asshole and with a dad bod already in his early 40s—though he’s unmarried and not a dad—but nonetheless has a reputation as a Casanova and with women on campus inevitably swooning over him, notably Rita (Parker Posey), the wife of one of his colleagues—who hits on him and demands sex almost immediately—and earnest, ingénue student Jill (Emma Stone), who has a nice, devoted b.f., Roy (Jamie Blackley), but finds her philo prof just so brilliant and interesting and irresistible and is just dying to have an affair with him—even though he is, objectively speaking, a poseur and a creep. And, of course, she does, as does Rita. They both know about the other but, hey, pas de problème. And while b.f. Roy is au courant, he doesn’t raise a stink for the longest time. Right.

Problem 1 with the film: The campus affairs/sex part is bullshit. As I’ve written before (go here and to the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs) this is a fantasy of middle-aged male screenwriters—and, en l’occurrence, an octogenarian film director toujours porté sur la chose—who have never been university professors. Problem 2: Professor Lucas is supposed to be brilliant but his class lectures, as depicted in the film, are a café de commerce. Early on he tells his students that most philosophy is bullshit; to listen to him throughout is confirmation. When it comes to philo talk, Woody Allen cannot rival Eric Rohmer (cf. the discussion of Pascal’s Wager in ‘Ma nuit chez Maud’). Moreover, Lucas says at one point that he’s writing a book on Heidegger and “fascism” (no, it would be “Nazism”) and, at another, he mispronounces Husserl’s name. Problem 3: The whole depiction of small, Northeastern liberal arts college life is way off. The dialogues are insipid and contrived, the campus situations implausible, and the students too preppy. It rings false. Or, to put it another way, it is false. And Emma Stone, who is 26 and looks it, is too old to be playing an undergraduate. She’s a fine actress but wasn’t right for this role. And then there’s Lucas deciding to suddenly quit his (presumably tenured) position and move to Europe to teach (city, country, or university not specified) and which raises no eyebrows at the college (yeah, sure, as if a philosophy professor at a liberal arts college can, job-wise, write his own ticket; also, if Lucas were up there with, say, Slavoj Žižek or Alain Badiou, he wouldn’t be at some little college to begin with). Problem 4: The pic’s central plot, if one wants to call it that, of Lucas committing what he thinks is the perfect crime and that suddenly enables his tortured soul to find meaning in life—and for him to finally get it up and fuck with abandon—and that he explains via his bullshit philosophy, is grotesque and perverse. Whatever Woody A. was trying to say here—about life, moral choices, or whatever—just rubbed me the wrong way. At the end of the film, I was disgusted. Point barre.

French reviews of the film are good overall (3.7/3.6 on Allociné), which is not surprising, though US ones are mixed (53 on Metacritic). I don’t read reviews of Woody Allen films—and haven’t of this one—though am quite sure the negative US ones are more on the mark. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: I decided to read a few reviews of the pic on Metacritic. The one by the NY Post’s Lou Lumenick, who calls it “the worst movie of [Woody Allen’s] career,” nails it (though I differ with Lumenick on Woody A.’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’, which I liked).

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Dheepan & La Vie en grand


These are two new French films set in the rough cités of the northern Paris banlieues and which I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. ‘Dheepan’, as one likely knows, was the surprise Palme d’or laureate at Cannes last May. The pic begins in a DP camp in far northern Sri Lanka, at what looks to be the moment of the army’s final victory over the LTTE insurgency (which would set it in 2009). LTTE fighter Sivadhasan—actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan, who was an LTTE guerrilla himself in his youth, so is familiar with the subject matter—is trying to hightail it out of the country—and for good reason, in view of the behavior of the Sri Lankan army after its victory (not to mention before)—for which he is aided by LTTE higher-ups, who furnish him with the passport of a dead fighter named Dheepan, that thus becomes Sivadhasan’s new identity. To improve his asylum chances abroad, he has to constitute a bogus family en catastrophe—his own has been killed—so does so with young widow Yalini (actress Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and nine-year-old orphan Illayaal (played by the impressive Claudine Vinasithamby, who was in primary school in the Paris area when she was cast for the role). They make the short hop by boat across the Palk Strait to India and then to Paris by plane (how that happened was not clear; did they get visas at the French consulate in Chennai? I’d be curious to know how this works, in view of the large numbers of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees France has received over the past 25-30 years).

Once in Paris, Dheepan requests political asylum for himself and his “family,” aided in crafting a halfway plausible story by his Tamil translator during the interview with the French case officer. The translator essentially makes up Dheepan’s story for him, with the fonctionnaire naturally not understanding a thing of what the two men are discussing and concocting. This bit I found interesting, as it points up a real problem in evaluating asylum requests, which is that asylum seekers can and do fabricate part or all of their stories—for which one can hardly blame them—and that are difficult, when not impossible, to verify by the host country authorities. And the veritable stories of many asylum seekers are indeed ambiguous. Dheepan, e.g., had well-founded reasons to fear that his civil rights, if not his physical integrity, would be violated were he to be taken into custody by the authorities of his country. On this level, his asylum application would be a no-brainer. But he had also been a fighter with an insurgent organization that carried out numerous atrocities, assassinations of elected officials—and in more than one country—and acts of terrorism—with it thus being designated as a terrorist organization by the EU, US, and others—which could result in the rejection of his asylum request. While watching ‘Dheepan’ I thought of the very good 2013 Sri Lankan film ‘Ini Avan’, which I wrote about at the time. The protag in that one, a former LTTE fighter, was not being sought by the authorities but, in view of his past, had become a social outcast and with his only option for making a living being criminality, of accepting offers he couldn’t refuse. And he was at permanent risk of retribution and from both sides. Had he been an asylum seeker in Europe, he would have had a strong case.

Returning to the film in question, after Dheepan’s asylum request is filed—and in France the process can take up to two years—he receives a job offer, to be gardien d’immeuble (superintendent) in a slummy building in a trashy cité, incongruously named Le Pré (the meadow), up in the Val d’Oise. This cité is as bad as they get: spatially isolated, populated entirely by immigrant families from the African continent—with nary a Français de souche in sight—and with rival drug-dealing gangs ruling the roost and engaging in periodic turf wars settled with semi-automatic weapons. If France allowed televised political advertising, the Front National would have a field day with images from the film. But a job is a job and an apartment that comes with it—even if it’s a dump—is an apartment, so Dheepan and his “family” take up residence there no complaints (this may be a movie—and thus fiction—but the image of immigrants willingly taking jobs that no one born and raised in France would do is real). Most of the film is set entirely in the cité and with three storylines, the first of the reality of their “family” situation, the couple of Dheepan and Yalini being purely instrumental, pour la forme, and devoid of sentiments—during most of the pic, at least—and with Yalini refusing to play mother to Illayaal, but with Dheepan nonetheless trying to build a normal life for them. And then there’s their adjustment to life in France, not speaking French—most of the film is in Tamil—and with the cité in which they live resembling nothing that the vast majority of French and non-Frenchmen alike would recognize as France. Dheepan, who has handyman skills, puts 100% into his job—he’s not a slacker (immigrants never are)—and forges a camaraderie with the older men in the building, who sit on the rooftop drinking and talking, while their gang-banger sons—over whom they have no authority—occupy the grounds of the cité below. Yalini finds relatively lucrative employment tending to the infirm father of the caïd, Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), of one of the gangs, who’s nice to her but is not someone whose bad side one wants to get on. Illayaal has social adjustment problems in school. And then there’s the gang violence in the cité, that harks back to what Dheepan et al left in Sri Lanka and from which they cannot escape.

I found it an absorbing, well-acted film. The tension slowly builds, as you know something is going to happen. And—spoiler alert!—it does with Dheepan, who, fearing for the safety of Yalini and Illayaal, and fed up with the gangs and their crap, employs the skills he mastered as an LTTE fighter to bring the voyous to heel and clean up the cité. But the paroxysm of violence at the end sent the film into genre territory, as more than one reviewer observed. We’ve seen it countless time (I thought of the final scene in ‘Straw Dogs’). This was too bad. As one critic incisively tweeted: “It was 80% a great film…and then it wasn’t. Va savoir.” And the rose-tinted final scene, of Dheepan and the family—now a real one—settled in middle-class English suburbia, was problematic and on three levels: 1. The nightmare of France and its cités are starkly contrasted with the idyll of England (if current refugee/migrants in Calais were to see the scene, they would redouble their efforts to get across the Channel), suggesting a curious—and debatable—parti pris on director Jacques Audiard’s part. 2. How do Sri Lankan asylum seekers in France receive authorization and then visas to move to the UK anyway? and 3. How does a man who has just killed several persons in a bloodbath—even if they were lowlifes just asking to be whacked—get off the legal hook so quickly? I know that one sometimes has to suspend credulity for movies but still. So while I will give it the thumbs up, what could have been a great film turned out to be merely a good film and with a couple of issues. It is not on the same level as Audiard’s chef d’œuvre ‘Un prophet,’ though ranks above ‘Rust and Bone’, which I didn’t like too much. As mentioned above, its Palme d’or was greeted with surprise by critics at Cannes. As I have seen only one of the other nineteen pics that were in competition, I can’t say for myself if it was deserved or not. French reviews are good on the whole—critics and Allociné spectateurs alike—though the Africultures website critiqued what it saw as the film’s clichéd, stereotyped portrayal of the banlieues. Hollywood press reviews are also good grosso modo, notably the ones in Indiewire and THR. Trailer is here.

The second film is ‘La Vie en grand’ (English title: Learn By Heart), the directorial debut of Mathieu Vadepied and which also premiered at Cannes (though not in competition for the Palme). This one is set in a cité in the neuf-trois, also gang-ridden, where 14-year-old Adama (first-time actor Balamine Guirassy) lives with his Senegalese immigrant mother, Fatou (actress Leontina Fall), who has been constrained by a judge to live apart from her polygamous husband—as living in a polygamous household will get one’s carte de séjour cancelled—and is having difficulty making ends meet. Adama is an indifferent student at school and on the verge of expulsion for failing grades, which are not due to lack of ability but rather his preoccupation with his mother’s precarious financial situation, having to work the marchés at dawn to earn a little money, and his separation from his (half) siblings, who live in another banlieue and whom he misses. One day his buddy, the 11-year-old Mamadou (Ali Bidanessy), finds a quantity of hashish, comme ça, and then Adama finds even an even greater quantity (this one dumped by dealers during a police raid), which the two decide to sell to the upscale kids at the local private lycée. So they go into business together, though with Adama only wanting to make money to help his mother. But as drug dealing is a dangerous business, not only because it’s illegal but as new entrants inevitably encroach on the turf of other dealers—and who are never nice people—Adama gets into trouble with some badass motherfuckers, who decide to make him and Mamadou work for them. One thinks of the runners in season 4 of the The Wire. But Adama tries to outwit the caïds all while striving to keep up with his schoolwork and avoid expulsion. And aided by three of his teachers plus the school principal—who are firm with him but go all out to help him succeed—he does so.

The school, with its teachers and principal, are Adama’s salvation. The film is a paean to l’école de la République. If I were a fonctionnaire with l’Éducation nationale, I would love the pic. And as for me, I did like it. Despite the subject matter it ends up being a feel good movie, mainly as Adama and Mamadou are absolutely, totally adorable. They’re boys you care about and want to help, indeed give a big hug to. And then there’s the happy ending (no spoilers). Going into the theater I was under the impression that the pic would be a comedy. It’s more of a dramedy, though, with the comedy part being one particularly hilarious scene, when Adama, who is ordered by the principal to bring his father to school the next day for an urgent meeting—but which Adama cannot and will not do—pays a clochard to accompany him and impersonate his father. This is one of the funniest sequences I’ve seen on the screen this year. Reviews of the film—by critics and spectateursare mostly good, though Africultures, in the link above, sniffed that the film’s feel good side served to downplay the complexity of the problems of the banlieues (and which the functioning of the educational system is a part of). Bof. Trailer is here.


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Abbas Milani and Michael McFaul, both of Stanford University, have a must-read piece in The Atlantic on “What the Iran-deal debate is like in Iran.” In short, Iranian democrats—i.e. those Iranians who oppose the regime and seek a normal relationship with the West—are for the deal. None are opposed (not in Iran, at least). Obviously. Why would they be?

If one hasn’t seen it, check out the reportage from Iran by The Forward’s Larry Cohler-Esses, “A Jewish Journalist’s Exclusive Look Inside Iran.” Money quote (one among others)

During the course of my conversations with several senior ayatollahs and prominent political and government officials, it became clear that there is high-placed dissent to the official line against Israel. No one had anything warm to say about the Jewish state. But pressed as to whether it was Israel’s policies or its very existence to which they objected, several were adamant: It’s Israel’s policies. Others, notwithstanding their ideological objection to a Jewish state, made it clear they would accept a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians if the Palestinians were to negotiate one and approve it in a referendum.

Ordinary Iranians with whom I spoke have no interest at all in attacking Israel; their concern is with their own sense of isolation and economic struggle. (…)

Charles Schumer & Co., take note.

If one is seeking a glimpse of Iranian society today—urban society, in Tehran—make sure to see the great Jafar Panahi’s latest film, Taxi, which won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale. As one knows, Panahi was, in 2010, forbidden by a Tehran kangaroo court from making movies for twenty years and leaving Iran, though he continues to surreptitiously make movies anyway. I saw his This Is Not a Film—which I called, in my ‘Best (and worst) movies of 2011’ list, the “Saddest home movie from Iran depicting the judicial persecution of a great filmmaker”—though didn’t the more recent Closed Curtain, which, for some reason, hasn’t come to France. The latest one opened here in April and to rapturous reviews (Hollywood press reviews were likewise). Audience reaction was also stellar and with the film a box office success: 580,000 tickets sold in France, which is exceptional for a film of this kind, i.e. a film from Iran and in which not much happens. It’s just Panahi playing taxi driver, picking up passengers—from a cross-section of Tehran society—and conversing with them. It’s all staged, of course—the persons one sees are actors, professional or amateur—though with the ending, when the VAJA—or whatever branch of the security services they are—catches up with him, not being staged at all. As I asserted in my last Iran post, Iran has a vocation to be friends with the US and Europe. Not the VAJA or other regime goons but the Iranian people. How can one not think that after seeing Panahi’s movie?

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Following up on my Iran nuclear deal post earlier this week, here’s a documentary that I recommend to anyone who has a serious interest in Iran and with strong convictions on the political situation there (the two usually going together). The documentary is the fruit of an original idea of the director, Mehran Tamadon—who left Iran for France in 1984, at age 12, with his communist parents, returning to live there for a few years in the early ’00s—which was to invite a group of mullahs to a private home near Tehran, where they would all discuss religion, laïcité, the place of secular Iranians in the Islamic Republic, and what common ground, if any, they could find to peacefully coexist in the same polity. “Le vivre ensemble,” as we say here. It took three years for him to find willing participants in his scheme—who would agree to be filmed—but he eventually did. So it was one atheist democrat vs. four pro-system mullahs in a friendly clash of ideas over a full weekend (with sumptuous meals prepared by their wives, who did not partake in the discussions, needless to say).

The film passed under my radar screen when it opened last December but this Le Monde article in February, on the interest the film had sparked in the discerning, intellectually highbrow cinephile milieu in the Paris area, aroused mine, so I went to see it at a Saturday morning screening in March and with the director present. It’s an engaging film, reminding me somewhat of discussions I had with Islamists in Algeria in the late ’80s-early ’90s: a dialogue of the deaf—though the dialogue in the film, between persons of the same culture and polity, and speaking in their native language, is far deeper than any I ever had. But while there is no meeting of the minds between Tamadon and the mullahs, the dialogue is civil and with the head mullah of the group—and biggest talker—displaying a sense of humor and bonhomie. Everyone seemed to have a good time and find the exercise useful. One does not imagine such a dialogue could possibly happen in Saudi Arabia or in Egypt these days, or just about anywhere in the Sunni Arab world. I certainly can’t imagine it in Algeria at any point over the past three decades (of a Pagsiste or pro-RCD intello engaging pro-FIS imams in dialogue over 48 hours in close quarters). Take a look at this two-minute Euronews report on the film, plus this three-minute excerpt (French s/t) of Tamadon and the mullahs debating laïcité. And see this review of the film in Qantara.de by writer Igal Avidan, who saw it at the 2014 Berlinale.

On the Iran deal, Robin Wright has an article in The New Yorker (July 30th), “‘Death to America!’ and the Iran deal.” The lede: “Iranians seemed befuddled about why the inflammatory mantra of the Islamic Revolution would ever impact the fate of the nuclear deal.” That’s right. It’s been clear since even the hostage crisis of 1979-80 that the mobs chanting “Death to America” in front of the US embassy were trucked in by the regime to perform for US television news. It’s theater.

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Arabian Nights

As Mil e Uma Noites Vol1 O Inquieto

Volume 1, The Restless One. This is the first part of a trilogy, or triptych, by Portuguese director/auteur Miguel Gomes, which opened in Paris last month to dithyrambic reviews. As I have been more or less riveted to Greece and the EU over the past three or so weeks, it seems logical to have a post on this film and at this moment, as its subject is precisely the deleterious effects that the European Union’s austerian policies have had on Portugal with the crisis that began in 2008-09.

The film is an original—if not idiosyncratic—presentation of the manner in which the crisis has affected that country. Quoting from this pre-projection dispatch in Screen Daily

Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, a contemporary re-telling of One Thousand and One Nights, is set to premiere in Directors’ Fortnight, a parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival (May 13-24).

Arabian Nights, the film – or, even better, the three miraculous films – by Miguel Gomes, will be premiering at the Directors’ Fortnight,” said Directors’ Fortnight artistic director Edouard Waintrop.

“The breathtaking triptych is inspired by the tales told by Scheherazade and by some events that occurred in Portugal between 2013 and 2014, while the country was subjected to a political power denying all forms of social justice. It will set the pace of our program. Each film, directed with a wild fantasy and a great freedom, will have its day.”

Set against the background of the economic crisis in Portugal, a contemporary Scheherazade paints a picture of the country’s woes, across three episodes: Volume 1, The Restless One; Volume 2, The Desolate One; and Volume 3, The Enchanted One.

The Portuguese economic and social crisis, recounted via The Arabian Nights‘s Scheherazade, updated for our present era and with stories that have actually happened in Portugal these past few years. What an original idea for a film. And Hollywood press critics, who saw “Volume 1” at Cannes, indeed piled on the praise. Variety’s Jay Weissberg, whose reviews are always reliable, thus began his

The first installment of Miguel Gomes’ trio of pics acts as a melancholy paean to a broken Portugal and a denunciation of European financial control.

The number of films dealing head-on with the global economic crisis have been shockingly few, leaving the field wide open for someone with the creative complexity and storytelling verve of Miguel Gomes, whose three-part “Arabian Nights” tackles the subject with characteristic imagination and, unsurprisingly, righteous anger. While too early to tell how the trio of pics hang together, it’s possible to say from “Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One,” that audiences are in for a meaty opus that weaves actuality and allegorical fantasy into an outraged portrait of European austerity, witch doctors, the Portuguese politicos at their beck and call, and, most importantly, the unemployed masses. (…)

And this from The Hollywood Reporter’s Boyd van Hoeij’s review’s “Bottom Line”: “People in crisis and flights of fancy come together in this frequently fascinating collage of stories.” And then there’s Indie Wire’s Oliver Lyttelton, who simply said that Miguel Gomes’s triptych was “astonishing.” No less.

As the last film I saw by Miguel Gomes, the 2012 ‘Tabu’, was quite good and original, and in view of the US reviews (always more reliable than the French), I assumed this one would be a guaranteed thumbs up.

The verdict: I found it incomprehensible. I didn’t understand what was happening in the film (made up as it is of several vignettes, all allegories; trailer here). I ceased trying to follow it after some twenty minutes, as I couldn’t make sense of the story (as there didn’t appear to be one). I could have walked out of the theater (sparsely attended, and on opening day) at any moment but stuck it out to the end, though for no good reason, as I was bored to tears for the two long hours. So for the first time in my recent movie-going history, I am obliged to part company with Jay Weissberg. Gomes’s film is one for critics, not audiences. And I am manifestly not alone, as after four weeks in the salles, barely 29,000 have seen it in all of France (cf. ‘Tabu’, which attracted 144K spectateurs during its run; for this latest one, Allociné spectateurs are decidedly less enthusiastic than the critics). In France that is called an échec, i.e. the pic has bombed, and among its natural audience of highbrow cinephiles.

The second “volume” of the triptych opens next week. I think I’ll skip it. And I certainly won’t be the only one.

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