Based on the short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by AS Byatt, George Miller’s latest feature devotes itself to mythology and it’s dwindling importance in our current world, where science has replaced the need for magic.

English narratologist Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) arrives in Istanbul, where she will speak at an international conference about her specialised field. Both at the airport and during her presentation, mysterious figures catch her eye, but she is not entirely convinced of their actual existence. At first she chalks up the sightings to her vivid imagination – the source of her interest in storytelling in the first place. In an attempt to clean an ornate glass bottle purchased from one of the city’s many bazaars, she is proven wrong as she unleashes the ultimate mytho-historical being: a djinn (Idris Elba).

The film takes its time setting the scene, giving the viewer ample time to get acquainted with both Alithea’s cosmos and the djinn’s detailed history of bottle incarcerations (once he enters the picture). The protagonist’s academic education has prepared her perfectly for this encounter: she knows his species are tricksters and any wish she utters could backfire. The abundance of exposition in their dialogue is alleviated through dramatisations of the djinn’s past life, but the majority of the action is confined to the hotel room in Istanbul. As such, an abrupt relocation to London capsizes the film’s established pace, especially in the third act, which feels rather rushed.

Neither Tilda Swinton nor Idris Elba disappoint in their respective roles. Their accents take some getting used to, but there is little chemistry as their onscreen relationship evolves. 

What works greatly in Three Thousand Years of Longing’s favour is that the slightly bizarre fantasy drama evokes a memory of stories long forgotten. It leaves the viewer with a sense of “I didn’t know they still made films like that.”

★★★☆☆

Selina Sondermann

Three Thousand Years of Longing is released nationwide on 30th September 2022.

For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.

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