Posts Tagged ‘A.S. Byatt’

Idris Elba, Tilda Swinton

“THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING” My rating: B+ (Amazon Prime)

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Love stories have always been a staple of the movies, but really effective romantic films — I’m thinking “Somewhere in Time”-level  heart grippers — are surprisingly rare.

To the list of swoonworthy cinema we must now add “Three Thousand Years of  Longing,” a romantic/erotic fantasy from director George Miller (the”Mad Max” and “Babe” franchises) that begins with pure escapism and gradually works its way into your guts.

This adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s 1994 novel The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye (the screenplay is by Miller and Augusta Gore) stars the chameleonic Tilda Swinton as Alithea, a Brit academic whose specialty is the art of storytelling.  In pursuit of new tales Alithea has traveled to Istanbul for a conference of her fellow narratologists.

As a souvenir of her trip she purchases an old blown-glass vial from a cluttered shop; back in her hotel room she pops the top of her new find and with a smokey whoosh a huge genie (or djinn) fills her suite.

This fantastic creature (Idris Elba) quickly adapts to his new environment, shrinking to human size and learning Alithea’s English language (a surprising amount of the film’s dialogue is presented in ancient Greek and other languages without benefit of subtitles— just one of many ways in which the film insists on immersing the viewer in new and evocative states of mind).

What follows is a sort of riff on “1001 Arabian Nights,” with the Djinn relaying to the fascinated story lady his experiences over the last three millennia…much of which was spent in various lamps and bottles where the unsleeping Djinn had plenty of time to contemplate notions of freedom.

The Djinn’s astonishingly colorful yarns feature the likes of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (he observed their love story from just a few feet away), a slave girl who with the help of the Djinn bewitched the Sultan Suleiman, and a 19th-century  proto-feminist who with the help of the Djinn (who also became her lover) went on an inventing spree worthy of Leonardo.

The Djinn (Idris Elba) and Sheba (Aamito Lagum)

Each passage has been spectacularly designed by Roger Ford, evocatively captured by cinematographer John Seale (“Witness,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The English Patient”) and perfectly performed by an international cast.

Always lurking in the background, though, are two inescapable issues.  

First, to gain his freedom the Djinn must grant his new owner three wishes — and Alithea is too smart a cookie not to anticipate the unforeseen fallout generated by a carelessly worded request.

Second, there’s a slowly pulsing undercurrent of sexuality constantly at work.  Must of this has to do with the vibes given off by the shirtless Elba, who really doesn’t have to work at exuding sexual power.  Then there’s the fact that both characters spend the film in fluffy hotel bathrobes.

And finally there’s the weird magic of Swinton, an eccentric-looking actress who can turn her gaunt frame, pale complexion and lank red hair into formidable tools of seduction — all without ever obviously going for it.

What does it say about us (or about me, anyway) that the most effective love stories are those rooted in fairy tales, science fiction and spiritual yearning?

That’s a topic for another day.  Right now I’m considering watching “Three Thousand Years of Longing” one more time.

| Robert W. Butler

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