[Film review] Three Thousand Years of Longing

Review by Michele E. Hawkins and John P. Harvey.

What an imaginative visual feast can come of a truly original short story!  From A.S. Byatt’s story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” comes an utterly beguiling adaptation of a tale of the dramatIc mysteries of the human heart, a tale of wishes, their fulfilment, and their consequences.  

Professor Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), a narratologist, travels to Istanbul for a conference, where she finds a strange bottle in the back room of a shop in a bazaar and insists that it is the item she would like rather than any of the more beautiful pieces on offer.

No sooner is she back in her hotel room than Alithea accidentally releases a djinn (Idris Elba) from the bottle.  He offers her the obligatory three wishes, insisting that they must be heartfelt, but Alithea knows better than to make rash wishes or to trust a djinn to not trick her.  She is, after all, a literary scholar who has read all the old tales and takes their cautionary messages to heart.  Besides, she’s living a perfectly satisfying life, even if it is largely of the mind.  Though she may have no one to share her life with, she can’t imagine truly wanting anything.

But the djinn cannot be free until she makes three heartfelt wishes.  She remains unwilling but curious about his life and how he came to be in the bottle from which she has just released him.  And so the djinn recounts the extraordinary tale of his life to her, and of his longing for freedom to return to the land of the Djinn.

Tilda Swinton as Alithea Binnie is exactly right.  Being rather ethereal-looking and almost translucently white, she could easily be one of the magical creatures featuring in the djinn’s life, but her delicacy is beautifully balanced by her intellect and deep humanity.  And Idris Elba is a truly wonderful djinn.  A marvellous blend of physicality with a deep, sad, compassionate soul, he makes a superb magical being.

Nothing about Three Thousand Years of Longing is predictable, yet everything makes sense, and the film will leave you savouring its luscious, gorgeously lit scenes, imagining the impossible, and appreciating the sense of wonder it invokes.  See it at least once.

Screening at Palace, Dendy, and Limelight cinemas.

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