Three Thousand Years of Longing is an adaptation of a novella by A.S. Byatt and a passion project for George Miller who was given a sizeable budget and the freedom to do whatever he wanted after the success of Mad Max Fury Road. In it, narratology professor Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) unwittingly releases a djinn (Idris Elba) from his bottle while in Istanbul, who offers her three wishes but also some cautionary tales about the hazardous business of wishing.
An intriguing, ambitious proposition, the film sadly unravels quickly. As the djinn relates the stories of those who came into possession of the bottle in flashbacks, it is apparent that on this occasion, the cult Australian director lacks the visual inspiration to truly pull it off with an aesthetic that is more advert for a luxurious shower gel than a world of magic of wonders, not helped by some questionable CGI effects. One can only imagine what a true visionary auteur such as Tarsem Singh could have done with this, although even he might not have been able to save that script.There is a big theme at the heard of Three Thousand Years of Longing: the power of storytelling and how it can set us free but it does not translate in the repetitive script, indeed storytelling does not prevent any of those granted wishes before Alithea from meeting an unfortunate fate and a rather dull one too (this is not Wishmaster!); this is somehow the moral of it all as no one before Alithea knew what to do with this power. As a single woman, independent and content with her life, she spends the film unsure about what to wish for or even unwilling to do so but script does not explore this side of her character much and this comes across as a narrative device to keep the story going. It does not help that the two leads have very little chemistry as they spend their time in bathrobes in a hotel room, culminating with a sex scene, which, frankly, in terms of naughty djinn shenanigans, has nothing compared to a similar scene in the series American Gods in terms of sensual power and inventiveness.
Of course you can choose to ignore the fantasy elements, go past the metaphor and see Three Thousand Years of Longing as just a romance, with the two protagonists charming each other with stories (Alithea warns us she has to tell this story as a fairy tale as the film opens or we won't believe her) and setting each other free but even that does not work, largely due to an embarrassing third act set back in England that tackles bigotry with all the subtlety and naivety of the Paddington films.
A film that will delight fans of inspirational posts on Instagram full of platitudes and disappoint anyone else, especially fans of George Miller.
Review by Laurent de Alberti
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Official selection, out of competition.
Three Thousand Years of Longing. Directed by George Miller. Starring Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba...