The savoury filling in Miguel Gomes' Arabian Nights sandwich, Volume 2 - The Desolate One sifts out the satire of Volume 1, replacing it with added absurdity, and a respect for style and structure whose absence somewhat blighted its predecessor. Seemingly straightforward yet opaque, it's the least conceptually convincing of the three films, being the awkward middle part of the project. But Gomes exploits this ungainliness to fabulous artistic effect, honing his skill of invention, dedicating himself to his (albeit wayward) narratives far more so than in Volume 1, allowing the film to truly settle into itself. The political subtext adds a sense of distinction, of a purpose that's wholly real, if not wholly realised - Gomes remains too eager to digress ever further, his vaguely novelistic approach still too dense to permit his film from adequately expressing itself, even if this stylistic endeavour is entirely appropriate. The Desolate One might also be titled 'The Desperate One', as it astutely chronicles the effects of political buck-passing, subtly establishing themes of responsibility, accountability and their disregard, and the futility of taking any kind of action - whether good or bad - in the face of such a corrupt system. But the chief virtue of The Desolate One is in its artistry. Gomes is a master of manipulating sound and silence in his films, and this one's beguiling sensory tableau is beautiful to behold. A rambling final half hour makes a clear point, though not completely clearly; it's intentionally loose, but thus something of a letdown after the preceding 90 minutes of relative excellence. At any rate, The Desolate One is quite the opposite: a step up from the relative mediocrity of The Restless One.