Combustible Celluloid Review - Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022), George Miller, Augusta Gore, based on a novella by A.S. Byatt, George Miller, Idris Elba, Tilda Swinton, Nicolas Mouawad, Aamito Lagum, Megan Gale, Zerrin Tekindor, Oğulcan Arman Uslu, Zack Braddy, Anna "Betty" Adams, Burcu Gölgedar
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With: Idris Elba, Tilda Swinton, Nicolas Mouawad, Aamito Lagum, Megan Gale, Zerrin Tekindor, Oğulcan Arman Uslu, Zack Braddy, Anna "Betty" Adams, Burcu Gölgedar
Written by: George Miller, Augusta Gore, based on a novella by A.S. Byatt
Directed by: George Miller
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content, graphic nudity and brief violence
Running Time: 108
Date: 08/26/2022

Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Story Dwellers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

George Miller has made only 11 movies since 1979 — and one of those was a segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie — and, to my eyes, has never made a bad one. In his best films, like Babe: Pig in the City and Mad Max: Fury Road, he specializes in energized kinetic movement, both dazzling and precise. He has an acute awareness of space and rhythm, and of figures in landscapes. Every story he has ever told, including the medical drama Lorenzo's Oil, moves, and moves so beautifully as to inspire exaltation.

His new film, Three Thousand Years of Longing, which is based on a novella by A.S. Byatt (Possession) is a little less so. It's a movie about storytelling, and its flaw is also because of storytelling. It's a movie that sings and moves, until it doesn't. But I still find it fascinating, and certainly worth viewing, especially for fans of Miller's work. It centers on Alithea (Tilda Swinton), a scholar that has dedicated her life to studying stories. She's a practical person, but her emotional side finds ways to get out; during a lecture, she has visions of ancient figures glaring at her in the audience. (One of them jumps at her and causes her to faint.)

At a market in Istanbul, she finds an attractive glass bottle and buys it. While cleaning it in her hotel room, she releases a Djinn (Idris Elba), who tells her he will grant three wishes of her heart's greatest desire. Unfortunately Alithea is content. She has no family and no desire for one. She loves her life and her books. She can't think of a wish. Plus, as everyone knows, stories about wishing are always cautionary tales. They never turn out well. What if she made no wishes at all?

Over the course of the movie, we find out. The Djinn has a long and harrowing story, telling how he was first imprisoned in the bottle, and how he became trapped in-between worlds when one of his last masters died without making her third wish. Most of his stories center around love. But over the course of centuries, he has never been able to grant anyone three wishes, and has been stuck that entire time.

Miller's flashbacks to The Djinn's stories are spectacular, with dizzying compositions and transitions, made up of bold colors and fluid movements. This takes up the majority of the film, to be sure. But when the Djinn's story finishes, and all that's left is for Alithea to wish, we end up a bit stuck. She has no wish, but she also has no desire to punish the Djinn any further.

So she does come up with a wish, and I can't talk too much about it, but it never quite feels right. Something feels off about these late scenes. And the irony is that, eventually, Alithea also comes to understand that it doesn't feel right, and she takes steps to correct it. Unfortunately, Miller can't quite find a way to electrify the scenes in-between. He loses momentum. There's an emotional flatness that doesn't compare to the erotic qualities of the early scenes.

Perhaps Swinton is the key. There's no question she's an extraordinary performer, and is perfectly cast as Alithea, but maybe she's more ethereal than erotic here. Perhaps she was unable to bridge her character's traits with her feelings, or perhaps Miller was unable to guide her. In any case, it's a conundrum, and I certainly don't have an answer, either. Yet, while I'm probably letting it off a bit too easy, I have had more pleasure pondering Three Thousand Years of Longing than many other films I've seen this year.

Warner Bros. Home Video has released a Blu-ray accompanied by a DVD and a digital copy, but with no extras (save for optional subtitles). The image quality is superb, and the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is likewise excellent. It's too bad there couldn't have been an interview with Miller or something, but otherwise, this is... Recommended.

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