At The Movies: Fleshy pleasures in a tale of djinns and kings

A still from the film Three Thousand Years Of Longing starring Tilda Swinton. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Three Thousand Years Of Longing (M18)

108 minutes, opens on Thursday

4 stars

The story: Dr Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) is a scholar who has settled into books and research. She has chosen the single life, one marked by calmness and reason. While in Istanbul at a conference, she meets a spirit known as a djinn (Idris Elba), who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom. Is he telling the truth or seeking to trick her? Based on the 1994 short story The Djinn In The Nightingale's Eye by British author A.S. Byatt.

At first glance, this appears to be a mystery thriller disguised as a fantastical tale of an Oriental djinn released from a bottle by a Western woman of science. Dr Binnie and the djinn come to the table aware of each other's reputations, based on myths - she is supposed to be wary of the consequences of making poor wishes, he is supposed to be a trickster out to manipulate her.

But director and co-writer George Miller seems to lose interest in that thread after a while, and appears more intent on world-building. If there is something that Miller knows, it is creating cultures, which he did so terrifically in the dystopian environments of the four Mad Max movies (1979 to 2015). Everything his wasteland marauders owned was stuck together from detritus - clothes, cars and even their language and myths.

The appearance of the djinn in Dr Binnie's Istanbul hotel room is a framing device for Miller's real interest - the flashbacks to the spirit's past life in the royal courts. These interludes are semi-comic, visually lavish affairs, each one a pearl in a gaudy necklace. There are feasts and orgies (note the M18 rating) that tap Miller's fascination with the fleshiness of bodies. Remember the seraglios, breeders and lactation chambers in Mad Max: Fury Road?

This movie is no tightly plotted work of thematic perfection. In fact, the closing scene feels unnecessarily drawn out.

But Three Thousand Years Of Longing does offer a fascinating glimpse into how one of the most visually inventive Western brains of our time has processed his love of an Orient that has only ever existed in myths.

Hot take: The decadent recalls, rather than the contemporary story, make you wish for more.

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