Thursday, August 25, 2022

Three Thousand Years of Longing: George Miller Adapts A.S. Byatt

As a scholar of myth and folklore, Alithea Binnie is familiar with the Twilight Zone episode “The Man in the Bottle,” or similar such tales. She expects the magical granting of wishes to necessarily result in ironic unintended consequences. Yet, the djinn offering her wishes has a good point when he argues she has free will, doesn’t she, so why should she be bound by the fate of others? However, when he tells her his story, he gives her plenty of examples of things not to wish for in George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, which opens tomorrow in theaters.

Binnie is used to academic conferences, but there has been something a little off about this gathering in Istanbul. It must be fate, or something, that soon guides her to pick up an old but supposedly valueless bottle in a bazaar. Guess what’s inside. Yes, Idris Elba. The djinn only needs a little time to adjust to Binnie’s language of choice and her physical scale. Then he must grant her three wishes, or suffer a terrible fate.

Naturally, Binnie asks how he got in that bottle in the first place. It is quite an epic story, spanning thousands of years and featuring a cast of characters including the likes the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon, and various royal despots from Byzantine antiquity. Ironically, his tragic history rather reinforces Binnie’s skepticism regarding wishes, but it also fascinates the Joseph Campbell-ish scholar.

Admittedly, Miller has a little trouble wrapping up
TTYL (even though it was adapted from the A.S. Byatt short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye"), but his patience and deft touch has produced a terrific film, loaded with rich visuals and exotic settings. Somehow, Miller managed to evoke Thief of Baghdad vibes in a way that should not arouse the professionally offended.

Idris is about the only thesp who could play the Djinn with the appropriately imposing physicality and dry wit, while still evoking the sense of an old soul within. He also generates a lot of heat on screen with Aamito Lagum, as the Queen of Sheba.

Yet, what really makes the film sing is the rapport, intellectually and otherwise, the Djinn shares with Binnie, played with great sensitivity and reserve, by Tilda Swinton. In fact, this film probably also represents Swinton’s most accessible and engaging work since
I Am Love. It is a brainy and passionate performance (encompassing two values too often considered mutually exclusive).

It is just a pleasure to let this film sweep you away. Cinematographer John Seale makes it all look lush and otherworldly. It is a feast for the eyes, with a surprisingly evocative score composed by Junkie XL. Everything about the film seductively pulls you in. Highly recommended,
Three Thousand Years of Longing opens tomorrow (8/26) at the AMC Lincoln Square.