Monday, 25 April 2016


A political portrait in all its possible guises: inquisitive documentary, cheeky satire, sombre social realism. Miguel Gomes' Arabian Nights: Volume 1 - The Restless One is clear and it is abstract, truthful and absurd, politically charged, fantastical, simple and strange, direct yet endlessly diverging. It is also great, good, and bad, and some combination of each of those among each of the qualities listed above. Drifting from one story to the next, and to stories within stories, this episodic feature functions like an aimless anthology more than the artistic statement Gomes intends of it, given its fitful nature. An engrossing opening segment, of which an extended version would undoubtedly have produced a better film overall, needlessly merges documentary fact with self-reflexive fiction; self-reflection being self-obsession, and Gomes' ploy to frame the entire remainder of The Restless One (and both subsequent volumes) as a story of great magnitude sets it a bar which it never even threatens to reach. He has a touch with subtle quirks inserted here and there, jaunty little gags with ephemeral effect; The Restless One is at its most affecting, and its least aggravating, when it settles into itself, allowing reality to trump fantasy and to afford the film an intensity of feeling that Gomes barely even considers to court. He's too concerned with his stories, and with telling them in the kind of dense detail, and with the kind of reckless momentum, that his classic literary inspirations employed. Perhaps it works on the page, but on screen, Gomes' breathless narrative drive gives the viewer no time to appreciate what they're presented with, no time to try to work out Gomes' intentions, the reasoning behind the theorising. All will become simpler in Volume 2, and clearer in Volume 3, but for all its intermittent brilliance, Volume 1 remains equally baffling.