The beginning of Arabian Nights Volume 3: The Enchanted One takes us closer to the character of Scheherazade (Crista Alfaiate), who went nearly unreferenced in part two. Here, she escapes the palace of the King to explore the world she is sheltered from, and finally gets into some trouble. It’s a welcome occasion for Alfaiate to demonstrate her acting range, from regal condescension when she answers the questions of a child (addressed in French), to annoyance when she encounters a “wind genie” (the most common type of genie, we are told, and the easiest one to fool). Her adventures end after a discussion with her father encouraging her to go back home. The meeting with her father, the Grand Vizier, is prompted by a helicopter banner: “Scheherazade, serious family conversation now!”
Gomes relishes in overturning conventions of period specificity – the historical setting in Arabian Nights never tries to block out the present. One legendary character has the incongruously anglophone name of Paddleman, along with a definite lack of wit that keeps him from being Prince Charming. The common people in Scheherazade’s land talk of a mythical Other Side of the World, represented here by an upside-down shot of a picturesque modern city.
The Enchanted One does several things to complete Miguel Gomes’ trilogy, but what it doesn’t do is offer closure. On the contrary, Scheherazade’s last tale is so self-contained and so carefully developed that it essentially exits the trilogy’s overarching structure to stand on its own. The Inebriating Chorus of the Chaffinches (keyword to keep in mind: “inebriating”) is about men who train small birds to sing. They do it as a hobby – one that is hard to relate to and sometimes takes control of their lives – and achieve it through various techniques; a bird undergoing its apprenticeship can pick up the song from a “master”, or can hear it played on a CD. Their obsession with being the best bird trainer in the competition isn’t merely suggested, it’s pursued in real time. Yet the chapter has its humorous touches, like when a CD is marked with the exact transcript of a bird’s particular chirp.
To put even more pressure on the spectators to take the story on its own terms, Volume 3 uses a lot of text inserts to push things forward. Scheherazade’s narration is amusingly given academic authority by signing her name along with the night of the recounting below the text, as a footnote. We’re given details about the characters’ training skills and their personal lives, and we have to keep up with the information so that the story makes sense. The actor who played Simão “Without Bowels” returns here as a legendary bird-trapper, known by the name of Chico Chapas – the actor’s actual name, or at least the pseudonym he chose for himself. The Enchanted One also has a Jacques Rivette feeling to it, with a lot of starting and stopping, since the on-screen text is constantly punctuated by “And in the morning, Scheherazade fell silent.” The film’s narration follows suit by introducing a neutral image to communicate the same story interruption.
Unlike Tabu, Gomes’ trilogy comes to a halt instead of building up to a conclusion. The best way to watch it is probably as a thorough inventory of narrative techniques and their artistic purpose, rather than the articulation of a never-before-spoken truth. That alone should be enough to justify the six and a half hour running time – thirteen hours, assuming you watch it twice.