George Miller's imagination is boundless. The Mad Max universe has come out of his mind, the dancing penguins from Happy Feet and even the talkative piglet from Babe the Brave Pig. A filmmaker who goes from fable to post-apocalyptic action with amazing ease and who never sticks to a specific model of commercial and formulaic cinema. Any Miller film is going to have a small risk, something that differentiates it, that does not make it fall into a sack of films destined to be confused with each other. No one can accuse him of accommodating himself with his new film, Three thousand years of longing (Three thousand years waiting for you) that has been seen out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately, this time the result is disappointing.
Miller's imagination runs wild and wasted in this tawdry version of Aladdin in which a reclusive and diffident writer (Tilda Swinton) discovers a bottle containing a genie with the features of Idris Elba. He grants him three wishes, but first tells him the story of all his imprisonments in different containers, which gives Miller free rein to make his own version of The Arabian Nights, telling stories set in the East and using all possible topics. and imaginable.
It's a shame that someone with such a powerful visual imagery resorts to all the clichés. The costumes, the saturated orange photography, the battles, the women with the veils, the colors… it all seems like something out of an old, stale storybook. Miller perpetuates orientalism and sometimes makes his film look like a lavish Terra Mitica performance. Golden veils, opulent pendants, oriental music, bearded men and women with painted eyes to appear mysterious. He portrays these stories the same way any Westerner would have done 50 years ago. A reductionist look that survives to the present day. Of course women are beautiful and beautiful, and Miller is determined to portray them as such. There is no powerful female portrayal in any of those stories.
One could argue that they are tales, fables of a lifetime, but we can no longer resort to the same stories in 2020, or not in the same way. Both narratively and visually they have become old. There is no moral in them that speaks of us, of the present. They all speak of romantic love as an all-powerful force and a cause of chaos. Three Thousand Years of Longing wants to be a reflection on love and loneliness, but its message seems to be written by an influencer for her followers.
There are no edges, no complexity. Neither in the stories of the past nor in the history of the present, the one that unites the writer with the genius today. Miller builds an ambitious story full of visual effects, but it is so innocent that it remains simple. So naive that one wants to connect with her, but her charm is soon lost as history repeats itself over and over again. She also stays at a middle point where she is neither too adult and dark nor too childish. Neither she nor she bets on violence and sex or on a white story, leaving them in a confused field.
The accumulation of stories does not help either. Its structure ends up being that of a storybook, and none of them are particularly brilliant. They follow one another without any of them being passionate and all of them are too similar to each other. They all have the same message for the public and then everything is underlined when the two protagonists comment on what they have just told. A pity, because Miller's imagination could have made for a good revision of modern tales. Nor does his defense of the power to tell stories work, which is only pointed out as a narrative excuse.
George Miller's film confirms, yes, the power of Tilda Swinton to defend any role. She is the best of the show, and contrasts with Idris Elba, who does not have enough charisma to bring to life this genius haunted by the past and frustrated love. Elba is one of those rare cases that occurs in Hollywood. She hasn't stopped acting in frustrated blockbuster-craving projects and has never delivered any brilliant performances except for Beasts of no nation. However, the industry continues to offer her time and time again opportunities for her to be that star that it seems that they have insisted on building.
It may be the expectations of seeing what a director like George Miller did with such promising material that causes some of the disappointment, but it is a film that wastes his talents. Now all that remains is to wait for his return to the Mad Max universe and trust a director who, at least, always takes risks. Also when it fails.