Riff on One Thousand and One Nights yearns for a bygone era of cinema

Refer Thousand and one Night as Arabian nights – a title that originated in the first English translation of the French edition – is a wild but telling simplification. It was originally a collection of Persian stories, probably with Sanskrit influence, which reached the Arab world around the 9th century, and continued to add and update stories in Syrian and Egyptian versions throughout. throughout the medieval period until the 18th and 19th centuries. . This was even after the first French edition, translated and compiled by Antoine Galland, collector of relics for the French aristocracy and the French East India Company. He also took the liberty of adding the tales of Aladdin and Ali Baba, told to him by storyteller Hanna Diyab. For 300 years, Western translations and adaptations have continually evolved to reflect changing narrative conventions and fashions in children’s book illustration and animation. The indefinite boundaries of this multiple narrative (partly the genuine result of its distant and remote origins, but also the result of the freedoms this remoteness facilitates) allow Westerners to project a fantasy of mystery and possibility, a misplaced sense of, eh good, desireon the imaginary Orient represented by the book.

At George Miller’s Three thousand years of nostalgiaDr. Alithea Binnie (a mannered and refined Tilda Swinton) is featured on a “Scheherazade Air” flight on the way at a conference on mythology and folklore in Istanbul. Narrologist, she delivers a very Dan Brown PowerPoint presentation on how stories make “existence coherent”, explaining the world before being supplanted by science and “reduced to metaphor”. She is at this point in front of a slide depicting comic book superheroes. If Miller repeats that Marvel movies are our “modern mythos,” he does so with tongue-in-cheek quotes. Miller, now 77, began his career in the Outback building the world of scrapyard madmax films, and the desire for this film is first and foremost his own, for a personal, idiosyncratic storytelling that contrasts with the exhausted wonder of the synergized, unimaginative intellectual property of our times.

Of Three thousand years of nostalgia

And so the plot of this whimsical, risque and expressively corny movie kicks off when Alithea finds a lamp in a market and, cleaning it in the sink with an electric toothbrush, dislodges a djinn (Idris Elba), who shrinks to human size and teaches himself English with the television of his hotel. While the cloistered and cautious academic hesitates over his three wishes, he reveals, Interview with the Vampire-style, a life story marked by the anguish of thwarted loves and the romanticism of the splendor of the time, from the court of Sheba to the seraglio of Suleiman the Magnificent via Istanbul. (Elba is, Cats aside, an actor unable to look silly. Here, his striking minty rasp is an effective and enchanting counterpoint to the djinn’s all-too-human fumbling.) As Bram Stoker’s Draculathe film takes an immortal lead character as an excuse to riff on pre-cinematic modes of narrative enchantment, here via interlocking tales encompassing distortions, digressions, dead ends, unreliable narrators and incidental marvels – all musky with the perfume of what Alithea rhapsodically calls “the Levant”.

Miller’s passion project largely consists of scenes of his only two named actors sitting side by side on a hotel bed in matching white bathrobes. The rest of the 3,000 years is, frankly, crazy as hell, highly lit, and marked by under-budgeted CGI. But it’s also appealing, because Miller, like Robert Zemeckis, is interested in the plasticity of new cinematic technologies. This makes the use of CG visuals in three thousand years paradoxically tactile, as with the effect of a viscous and shiny liquid glass containing the forbidden books of a concubine. Manufacturing Mad Max: Fury Road with largely practical effects, Miller amazed viewers by not relying on CGI to replace the physical world. Here, using CGI more excessively as a magical or at least unreal transformation of the physical world, he again offers an alternative to the digital automation of modern spectacle cinema.

Of Three thousand years of nostalgia

It feels like a director here is pushing all his bullets to the center and turning his entire personal cosmology into a movie – a grand gesture that’s not entirely backed by corresponding intellectual rigor. Three thousand years of nostalgia features frequent speeches on the importance of storytelling, from scholarly pop platitudes to the level of Alithea’s opening speech. (It doesn’t help that Swinton has already starred in a much smarter faux epic about love and narrative freedom: Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf Orlandoa familiar hacking gesture that undermines any transporting lyricism.

However, the sheer fashionability of the film works in its favor. Accompanying Alithea to London, the djinn is overwhelmed by the cacophony of sound and radio waves that cut through the atmosphere of the modern world. While that’s indicative of the film’s weathered look (the white noise problem doesn’t plague it one way or another in contemporary Istanbul), it’s hard to be antipathetic to the sentimental nostalgia. Miller’s film is in the same almost obsolete imaginative lineage as Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation of Sinbad’s Golden Journey or the behind-closed-doors Technicolor magic of the 1940s Baghdad Thief. (A subplot about a sultan’s lipophilic son also feels, for better or worse, like something from another era, with a different calculus on exoticism versus sensibility.) Let the filmmakers 77-Year-Old Make Passionate, Bewitching Box Office Turkeys! It’s quite moving to see the device of 21stFilming blockbusters of the last century bent to the ends of such a creaky, alien contraption. Three thousand years of nostalgia is a cloudbuster.

Three thousand years of nostalgia opens in theaters on August 26.

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