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2016年4月4日 星期一

Arabian Nights: Vol. III: Encantado (一千零一夜:著魔傳說)







In many ways, Volume III of Arabian Nights: Encantado (2015) by Portuguese director Miguel Gomes is film belonging to a genre all by itself. It's supposed to be based on the from and structure of the stories of Sheherazade, the tales told by a beautiful girl who must keep on telling stories to delight and titilate the imagination and the hunger of the Persian Grand Vizier for "amusement", someone who already has everything that he could possibly want and perhaps for that reason, harbours an insatiable need to hear stories that keeps his attention from falling into the kind of boredom or ennui which awaits him, someone who has given an order that the moment she ceases to tell a story in which his interest flags, that's the moment when her head would be removed from her beautiful body. What kind of stories would she tell? And how can the kinds of stories she narrates somehow be exploited to tell some of the stories of  contemporary Portuguese society?

But before she tells her stories, first we had an introduction or a recall. An Indian or Middle East looking young girl dressed in finely embroidered and body hugging brocaded pants and dress was dancing in bare feet, bare belly and bare shoulder what looks like a typical Indian dance in the open air against a wall under the Mediterranean sun,  using the kind of body postures and finger gestures we see in stone sculptures we find decorating the walls of many Indian palaces or temples or in classical Indian paintings. In the middle of her dance, she is suddenly interrupted by the intrusion of a bearded Grand Visier, dressed in his finery under in a turbaned head walking unceremoniously towards her and inspecting her, looking into her eyes and then as abruptly leaving, apologizing himself because he said he mistook her for another woman, one of his many wives, whose image he could never erase from his mind.

The scene quickly switched into the past where we find Scheherazade going out of the palace, meeting some fishermen and assorted gypsy characters on a rocky limestone outcrop where young men are practising diving so that they might dive deeper and deeper down the coast to recover some legendary hidden treasure from a sunken ship deep down the sea floor. She meets a handsome young, a professional thief, who is interested only in seeding children with as many women as possible and who has already fathered more than a hundred children, something which seems consistent with Darwin's theory of evolution which argues that the purpose of all life is to reproduce more and more progeny, and whose investigation begins with his study of finches. One of the his little kids asks Scheherazade where they came from. She tells them that they are gifts of the sun. She finds a lamp and touching it, found a genie of the wind, dancing to her. She throws away the lamp and it lands amidst a group of contemporary teenagers having some fun by the seaside below, who then yell at her that they're not a heap of rubbish! She returns to the palace and tells the Grand Visier that she is running out of stories and would soon have to meet her fate but is encouraged by the Grand Visier to tell more whilst having a Ferris wheel ride with her high in the air but not to make too much of an effort. This then leads into the formal "theme" of volume III of the tryptich: the various ways which some otherwise ordinary Portuguese working class people( a fisherman, a drug addict, a worker, and a policeman) devote all their energies in their spare time into catching finches, teaching them to sing and to outdo each other in an annual finch singing competition held on the outskirts of a small town by an airport and how they find meaning in this unusual activity, hobby or obsession, having learned of the ability of the finches to sing long hard and beautiful songs,as the unintended result of Portugal's quirky history when some Portuguese soldiers went to quell a native rebellion for independence by some overseas islanders in the early 1980's.There they learned for the first time the customs of the indigenous islanders of raising male finches which compete with each other in the variety, the strength and duration of their mating calls. We are shown how a professor and his student trap the finches, how they study their mating calls, how they teach the finches to sing during the mating season in spring, by making them learn from other "master finches" in the traditional way or by CD's in the modern way, how they attract the finches by releasing the recorded sound of other finches singing from a portable CD playing machine on a fake tree, how they feed them vitamins and other nourishing food to increase their strength and ability to sing and the length they would go to in trying to win the competition, how they were bred, how owing to one tiny oversight when their owner went on holidays it led to wiping out the entire population of prize winning finches which took him years of care and attention and love to build up, how some of them may get caught in the nets intended for catching the finches. And in the middle of this third volume, there is interspersed the adventure of a married Portuguese policeman to sow his wild seeds upon a young Chinese girl from Macau who won a scholarship to study in Portugal, a simple minded girl who found pleasure in his amorous antics in bed but was eventually abandoned when the policeman learned of her pregnancy, an episode which became the occasion for the relation of a bit of contemporary Portuguese history in the form of a confrontation between a police support group and an anti-police political groups which the authorities feared might lead to bloody clashes during a much hyped demonstration but which ended up by the men embracing each other.  But we never saw her nor the policeman, all we hear is her off screen voice, her narration, together with the street scenes she describes.


I have seen neither the first nor the second volume of the three-part film. So I wouldn't know what they are about but as far as this third volume of the film is concerned, there are ravishing images of pastures, of forests, of beautiful sun-drenched rugged chalky coastal rocks and seas, of sumptuous undersea image, of the montage of different images of past over the past, of the past over the present, of children spontaneously and magically speaking sometimes in Portuguese, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English, of traditional gypsy songs played on the guitar, contemporary electronic disco music, singing sometimes in Portuguese, sometimes in English folk style. No wonder the Grand Visier was not yet ready to behead her beautiful story teller, when she was into 515 episode. The film ended(has it?) in the middle of the stories of the finches and when the screen credits were played at the formal end of the film, the finches beautiful mating songs are still endlessly chirping. Are humans a bit like the finches, singing their mating songs until they die or can sing no more?