Why This Director?: Tabu left me hungry for more, especially considering the reviews this got.
My Last Experience Was…: Tabu, which just missed my Top 10 for 2012 and was singular enough to make me regret it.
What Did I Watch: His six hour/three part epic on the austerity measures of Portugal, Arabian Nights.
Where Does He Fit: I do not know what I expected from this, but documentary type footage certainly was not part of it, with the opening reels of Volume 1 consisting of discussions over the closing of shipyards contrasted with a newly developed wasp plague hitting the area and being fought with fire. It’s a mix of the fascinating and the banal, with gloomy comments about what has been lost mixed with random childhood memories of the offscreen workers.
Then this happens:
“Oh good, we’re back on familiar ground,” was my immediate thought. The director himself conjures up the legendary heroine Scheherazade in modern form to tell the tales and prolong his own life for running away from his crew…but she is still from ancient Baghdad. And with that, the tales to keep the filming crew alive begin:
The first volume goes for the most fanciful, crazy stories of the bunch. We see several ministers with permanent erections (a nastily potent metaphor about how grossly masculine the behaviors causing this crisis are), a bib wearing rooster that neighbors want put on trial because of how goddamn loud it is (this segment is more like Neighboring Sounds’ dog barking storyline than anything resembling the absurdism of the prior segment), a dumb text messaging romance, a man whose stomach gives him trouble as he collects his own stories of woe. You could catch tonal whiplash from this saga, but what audacity! This land is Gomes’ land, and the incoming fires that devastated the region are seeming all the more of a forecast of the grimness.
Volume 2 starts off by relaying an escape by a man called Simao Without Bowels due to his skinniness. Despite being a mass murderer who killed his own family, everyone allows him to sneak around, hiding in their shacks and giving him food in a way that I can only, grimly, compare to the Jews in the Holocaust who were hid away by helpful opponents of the Nazis. Simply by hiding from the authorities, he is a bit of a local folk hero. Yet another man who leads his community falls to his death, and everything goes badly. “The towns need to keep themselves running on their own thanks to the government being useless” is the message. Simple but effective, although the pacing is some real languid stuff.
The Tears of the Judge has gorgeous shots that feel out of an entirely different movie, with the opening one of two wine glasses doused in purple lighting as particularly pretty. We then proceed to a trial that also takes its damn time with the absurdity, with the judge having to deal with a series of absurd witnesses ranging from a talking cow to a genie to a person who likes to ring up emergency services and watch the ambulances go by his house.
And finally, we focus on a dog named Dixie, who has a very sad but very cute existence that goes into deeply meta territory. No spoilers. Get that Palme dog!
Volume 2 is definitely the best and the one that was the correct Oscar submission since it goes down the easiest, but that does not mean you should watch them out of order even with Gomes saying you can. It is all a culmination for, to put it in the same subtitle terms: The Best or Worst but Definitely Not Second Place One. For you see, it takes a subculture and blows it up to full scale:
Well, this is after a gorgeous series of stuff involving a treasure diver and Scheherazade’s depression over this situation, and some rapturous numbers, a genie of the wind, etc.
Anyway, it is easily the most infuriating to watch in some ways, but also the funniest in just how long it drags on and what an atypically unsatisfying ending it is. Stories are everywhere but we cannot hear all of them, so why not tell just this in obsessive detail?
Gomes is easily among the most exciting voices in the cinema today, and I only hope that his next movie really rips the Portuguese policies to shreds, no matter the duration. I would happily watch a twelve hour work if it was divided up into ideas like this was.
Most Valuable Asset: He truly does not give a fuck.
Most Excited For: Whatever he does next, although I guess I also have Beloved Month of August to watch.
Coming Up Next: Recent Cannes sensation Maren Ade.