In spite of its seemingly monumental ambitions, Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights has never been in danger of being weighed down by pretensions. From the opening minutes of Volume One, Gomes has maintained an effervescent tone, albeit one tamed somewhat in the darker Volume Two. Even there, Arabian Nights keeps its focus on its main subject: the Portuguese people, and the ways in which they’ve felt the impact of austerity. As such, Gomes’s film always true to itself and never seems to stray from the director’s vision.
After a joyous, energetic opening, the second installment of Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights, subtitled The Desolate One, takes a turn, appropriate to its title, for the darker. The humor which makes the opening such a blast certainly hasn’t entirely disappeared, but it’s become more subdued, and at times even cruel.
From a simplistic description, Miguel Gomes’s film Arabian Nights could sound unbearably self-important. Taking its name from a foundational collection of folk literature and running at a total of over six hours, the film almost sounds like a parody of arthouse excess. Add in the political goals of depicting life in contemporary Portugal under the pain of its economic collapse, and the mere concept of the film threatens to implode in self-seriousness.