Directed by George Miller.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba, Ece Yüksel, Zerrin Tekindor, Erdil Yaşaroğlu, Kaan Guldur, David Collins, Alyla Browne, Nicola Mouawad, Burcu Gölgedar, Berk Ozturk, Ogulcan Arman Uslu, Pia Thunderbolt, Matteo Bocelli, Lachy Hulme, Megan Gale, Jack Braddy, and Aamito Lagum.
A lonely scholar, on a trip to Istanbul, discovers a Djinn who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom.
George Miller certainly has one of the strangest and most unique directorial outputs, so in a way, it’s on-brand that he follows up Mad Max: Fury Road (one of the most exhilarating and euphoric action films ever made, no hyperbole) with Three Thousand Years of Longing, a dialogue-driven tale between a narratologist and a Djinn that’s primarily set in a hotel room (unless we are being shown the genie’s back story across time).
What makes everything Miller creates worth watching is that there will be a distinct visual flair with graceful camera maneuvering, whether total mayhem (Mad Max) or something cutesy (Babe). It’s always going to be challenging to step inside a completely different genre, but there’s a likelier chance at success when craftsmanship and vision come first.
That’s not to say George Miller is an underwhelming storyteller, either. If anything, it’s the contrary, especially with the likes of Fury Road baking several gripping character moments into its nonstop chaos. Here, the 77-year-old filmmaker has made stories a focal point of conversation and analysis. Based upon the short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A.S. Byatt, Three Thousand Years of Longing starts with narratologist Alithea (Tilda Swinton) giving a lecture in Istanbul, with the majority of for teachings pushing back against the relevancy of mythology and other ancient texts. During that same presentation, she imagines a character or two from those times in the crowd, which causes her to faint briefly.
Before resting up and relaxing at the hotel, Alithea also purchases a mysterious bottle from an artifacts shop. It’s not much longer before Idris Elba is bursting out in giant form (the hotel room barely contains him, although he does eventually take on a more normal size even if he still towers over his screen partner in every frame, which speaks to the careful and methodical photography from John Seale) and desperate to grant three wishes in exchange for his freedom. You know the deal, and there are no twists to the formula, but Alithea wisely brings up that every story involving someone receiving wishes from a Djinn is typically a cautionary tale. She even wonders if this genie is a trickster with ulterior motives.
Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba are unbelievably gifted actors, so it’s no shock that they are as intellectually stimulating to watch as their characters. As they discuss the essence and purpose of storytelling, they are forced to open up to each other. The genie goes first, detailing a heartbreaking tale of love and betrayal that got him stuck in the bottle, to begin with. Meanwhile, Alithea responds with a rundown of her romantic life and how an instance of betrayal became an opportunity for freedom to take charge in her life. Such juxtapositions offer much to ponder about love and, well, longing. For Alithea, it’s a definition that becomes redefined over time.
However, the brunt of Three Thousand Years of Longing is a trilogy of flashbacks (back to the Ottoman Empire and more) taking viewers through the Djinn’s confinement, loneliness, chance encounters with potential wish makers (it usually doesn’t end well), and desire for connection and freedom. A clever take on The Sword in the Stone and other fables are here, allowing George Miller to get zany and detailed with costumes, production designs, and even a few small-scale battle sequences. A dark charm and delicate, gliding camera movements bolster this sense of enchantment and wonder.
The only problem is that all three short stories are surface-value intriguing, mostly living off visuals and style. Each of them also feels packed roughly five minutes too much, which adds up and becomes a bit more of a nuisance, considering it pulls the focus away from the engaging hotel room talk and Alithea’s shifting mindset. There are also times when the stories come alive more emotionally when we see Idris Elba telling them to Alithea, rather than listening to his narration and witnessing them unfold for ourselves.
Unfortunately, that’s the extent of stirring resonance; for a movie called Three Thousand Years of Longing, the romance never approaches the sweeping epicness the larger narrative aims for. Much here is emotionally muted, which becomes frustrating during the directionless third act that, while making a compelling point against technology, comes across thrown together and like it might go on for another 3000 years.
However, the tantalizing concept of detailing a Djinn’s life with all the pain, endurance, and loneliness that comes with the territory, alongside a study of the purpose of storytelling, suggests something refreshing can always be drawn from old tales. And you don’t have to wish for it; you give George Miller the green light.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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