Cannes Film Festival: Three Thousand Years of Longing review - A fantastical, lurid fairytale

·2 min read
 (Handout)
(Handout)

You never know what to expect with George Miller. This is the director who, at age 70, disrupted the film industry with the audacious Mad Max: Fury Road. The fact that Miller is returning seven years later with a fantastical, lurid fairytale stretching across millennia is only a natural progression. Of course he would go as weird as it gets.

Set predominantly in an Istanbul hotel room, Three Thousand Years of Longing stars Tilda Swinton as Alithea, a narratologist who’s in town for a conference. At a local market, she finds herself drawn to a small blue bottle, and as she attempts to clean away its dirt with a toothbrush, she inadvertently releases a Djinn (Idris Elba) — one so enormous that his foot just barely squeezes through her bathroom door. He offers her three wishes, but Alithea, content with her loneliness, is perhaps the one person who doesn’t long for anything. That is until the Djinn regales her with tales of his bottled incarcerations: his tragic affair with the Queen of Sheba, a long stint spent in a Constantinople palace, and his attachment to an imprisoned wife thirsty for knowledge.

The film is the closest thing to a COVID movie that Miller could possibly make, which is to say that containment is only temporary. Much of the story takes place in Alithea’s hotel room, as she and Djinn sit in bathrobes and weave each other lavish tales, but Miller naturally sets his ambitions far beyond these limitations. Djinn’s stories transport the viewer to ostentatious golden palaces and shadowy stone hallways, a concubine dungeon and a desert battlefield splattered with blood. If a little gaudy, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a lush visual feast. It’s only let down by some questionable CGI, especially after Fury Road cemented itself as one of this century’s best thrillers in part because of its practical effects.

The bombastic, inventive action we’ve come to expect from Miller is certainly there. Murder runs rife and supernatural beings (such as a nasty arachnid demon) sprinkle some cosmic horror into the historical flashbacks. Sure, Miller is a filmmaker renowned for his pure maximalism, but Three Thousand Years of Longing soars highest when it leans into its sentimentality. It’s a film that passionately believes in the power of storytelling and its ability to make sense of the world — but it’s also about the value of accepting love.

The relationship between Alithea and the Djinn perhaps falls flat if only because it happens so abruptly, but it’s hard not to get swept up by the idea of two beings caught in the tidal wave of fate. “I want our solitudes to be together,” Alithea tells the Djinn as she opens herself up to a life less isolated. Stories are a powerful tool, but as the film discovers, they’re only worth telling when you’re in the company of someone who will listen.

Three Thousand Years of Longing is screening at the Cannes Film Festival

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