Released: 1st September
Seen: 4th September
George Miller is one of those directors who came on the scene with a film that changed cinema and has almost constantly delivered truly fascinating work. His film Mad Max is, without hyperbole, one of the most important features to come out during the Australian New Wave period that lasted from the start of the 70s to the end of the 80s. He has the distinction of being one of a handful of directors to handle every entry into a long-running franchise, and then we go outside that to see his work on such legendary films as Witches of Eastwick, Happy Feet and the absolutely perfect Babe 2: Pig In The City. He’s the kind of director who you can completely trust to give you a good time in the cinema… usually. With Three Thousand Years of Longing he delivered something else.
Three Thousand Years of Longing tells the story of Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), a literary scholar who spends her days giving lectures about stories and how important they are. This job lets her travel the world and stay in nice luxury hotels One of these stops is in Istanbul (not Constantinople) where Alithea ends up buying a small bottle with an interesting pattern on the glass which is seemingly burned all over. She takes the bottle back to her hotel and cleans it, which counts as rubbing so a Djinn (Idris Elba) pops out to grant her three wishes. Alithea, being a literary scholar, knows that every story about a genie granting wishes is actually a cautionary tale and so in order to convince her that this will work, the Djinn tells Alithea 3 stories from his past.
As is to be expected when George Miller is behind the camera, Three Thousand Years Of Longing is a visual masterpiece. Every element of the film is just gorgeous to look at, from the simplicity of the shots in the pure white hotel room to the stories from Djinn’s past, every one is just beautiful in its own special way. Each one is heightened and as beautiful as could be, brightly coloured with glorious dramatic camera angles that make each frame feel like a beautiful painting that’s begging to be studied for all its glorious detail. It’s impossible to not be in absolute awe of what’s put on screen, every time you think Three Thousand Years of Longing can’t top itself when it comes to the gorgeous imagery it somehow finds a way to outdo itself.
The accompanying score and use of sound are also just marvellous, helping to immerse you into the worlds that Three Thousand Years of Longing is trying to create. The mix is astounding, every sound is used perfectly to fill the room in such a way that it puts you right in the middle of this strange world. It’s honestly brilliantly done, like it was designed to sweep up technical awards at every ceremony for the next year or so.
Hell, not just sound but every aspect of the filmmaking is amazing. The sets are flawlessly done with little details that just make it feel lived in, the costuming is a thing of beauty and every new outfit just makes your jaw drop with the undeniable beauty of it all and god damn the effects work is flawless. It never feels like it’s gratuitous, every little effect only enhances the story without ever pulling focus just to show off the fun new thing they can do.
Then there are our leads, who basically have to carry Three Thousand Years of Longing through their chemistry alone since they have almost all of the lines. Even when the flashbacks are happening, it’s a story the Djinn is telling so the characters in it don’t tend to talk. Their chemistry is pretty great and when it’s just the two of them together in a hotel room they elevate the material substantially, there’s a reason these two are as big as they are in the industry and this movie really does remind you of that.
Having said all that you might think that I love Three Thousand Years of Longing… and you’d be wrong. The individual elements of this film are undeniable, it’s technically fascinating, well acted and an undeniable visual delight but when everything is mixed together it just never quite works as well as it should. There’s an air of pretension about it, the importance of stories elevated by the telling of stories that just kind of lingers long past their welcome. Its slow ponderous nature soon just becomes slow and dull, even the undeniably beautiful visuals can’t help but make it feel like we’re sitting in a very high-tech lecture about ancient texts.
As easy as it is to like the main pair of performers, any growth they go through feels minimal at best and doesn’t really give any feeling beyond “Well good for them”, and even that isn’t guaranteed. There’s a clear attempt to have some dramatic moments towards the end, after all the stories from Djinn’s past have been told but it just doesn’t quite work, there’s an energy missing that keeps Three Thousand Years of Longing from rising to its full potential.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is a film that never quite matches the sum of its parts. The parts are great, showing off the incredible talents of a master of the craft who picked a crew that brought their A-game but for some reason, all this greatness mixes together to make something that’s barely above OK. It feels like it might be a film that improves on multiple viewings, it might just require you to be in the exact right mood for something this slow and ponderous but even though the elements are all here for something great, unfortunately Three Thousand Years of Longing just doesn’t quite get there.