No lack of ambition in Arabian Nights

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      Starring Crista Alfaiate. Rating unavailable.

      Circuitous, surprising, and almost insanely ambitious, the six-hour Arabian Nights is broken into three roughly equal chunks, each using the tales of Scheherazade to explicate the realities of austerity politics in Portugal.

      Shown here with its parts given four screenings each over a week’s time, this marathon undertaking was written and directed by Miguel Gomes. He’s best known for offbeat, metacinematic items like Our Beloved Month of August, about a film crew falling apart in the hinterlands, and the black-and-white Tabu, with its giddy silent-movie references.

      Here, Gomes rips out the kitchen sink, digs up old footage, shoots straight doc stuff, stages ornate musical numbers, and throws everything at the screen—sometimes all in the same sequence. This haphazard approach sometimes explicitly references those ancient tales, intended to keep the famed courtesan and others alive—the sultan wasn’t killing anyone while he was listening—and sometimes moves randomly sideways.

      Each part breaks into roughly three stories, but they are unpredictably intertwined. Volume 1: The Restless One centres on a shipyard strike, but is not immune to the sting of wasps, the crowing of roosters, and the sound of exploding whales. Volume 2: The Desolate One re-creates the tale of an old king—more like a highwayman in this version—on the run from betrayers. (He still has time for a notable four-way amid some handy ruins.) Elsewhere, an invisible dog connects disparate tenants in a large apartment complex. And in the only costumed segment, a mock trial drags on somewhat tediously.

      Although all three parts refer to each other’s themes, they really can be seen in any order and are passably stand-alone ventures. If I were to catch just one, it would be Volume 3: The Enchanted One, the wittiest, sexiest, and most comprehensive installment. This one gives us Scheherazade herself, reimagined as a beautiful princess (Crista Alfaiate, also seen in several other disguises) who escapes the castle for some skinny-dipping and encounters with various colourful characters. This is somehow blended with 1970s performance footage of Brazilian psych rockers Novos Baianos. There are also tunes by Lee Hazelwood and a Portuguese heavy-metal band, and the movie ends with—I kid you not—the Langley Schools Music Project, doing an obscure Klaatu number. An undeniably strange experience, and an oddly valuable one.