A Portuguese mermaid wasted by deep budget cuts.
A Portuguese mermaid wasted by deep budget cuts. Still from Arabian Nights, 2015

Director Miguel Gomes (Our Beloved Month of August, Tabu), a man who sees no barrier between genres, uses The Arabian Nights as a structuring device to paint a critical, if amusing portrait of his country’s financial crisis. Over the course of his matryoshka doll-shaped trilogy, Scheherazade (Crista Alfaiate, drily funny) tells stories that lead to other stories in which Gomes combines non-fiction (shipyard workers, chaffinch enthusiasts) and folklore (talking cows, ghost dogs) in a lament about income inequality.

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In the prologue to the first film, "The Restless One," Gomes freely admits that he doesn’t know how to tie the threads together, stating "I'm stupid, and abstraction gives me vertigo" (subsequent volumes include "The Desolate One,"which screens tonight," which screen and "The Enchanted One," which screens tomorrow). He's hardly stupid, but he goes where his whims take him, like suggesting a link between austerity measures and sexual impotence. If anything, he cares too much, since some scenes, like the Buñuelesque trial at the heart of "The Desolate One," seem to go on forever.

All told, the trilogy plays like a cry of frustration from a filmmaker who loves the people at the bottom and loathes the people at the top. So, it's specific on the surface as he interrogates Portuguese society from August 2013 to July 2014, but the tales of life on the unemployment line will feel painfully familiar to anyone who’s ever been there.