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Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One

Perhaps the year’s most ambitious cinematic undertaking is director Miguel Gomes’s (Tabu) breathtaking trilogy of tales that channel the current struggles of economically depressed Portugal through an assortment of tales that range from farcical yarns to grounded accounts of social issues.

After opening with overlapping documentary portraits of a shipyard and a man staving off a nasty swarm of wasps, the director appears on screen, contemplating his overly ambitious undertaking. From these tentative beginnings, Gomes spins a satirical tale about the financial powers-that-be preying on Portugal’s vulnerability. Next up is the comic story of the role a rooster plays in a local election, followed by a sobering triptych of anecdotal interviews with unemployed citizens. Set just before the New Year, they suggest that the turn of the calendar promises fresh troubles rather than new hope.