More to Miller than ‘Mad Max’ Cannes debut for Three Thousand Years of Longing

The Cannes veteran presents a movie about an ancient djinn and explains why it is so tangible

The Cannes veteran presents a movie about an ancient djinn and explains why it is so tangible

George Miller took a few days off from his  Mad Max world —  Mad Max: Furiosa, the next instalment of the franchise, is already in the works in the Australian outback — to showcase a film from another world. Yes, quite literally, from another world.

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Three Thousand Years of Longing, which premiered out of competition at the 75 th Cannes Film Festival, is not only a film that is intimate, meditative and contained, it proves that there is far more to Miller than the manic energy of  Mad Max.

“George told me  Three Thousand Years… will be a ‘little’ film, a chamber piece,” begins his lead actress Tilda Swinton. It indeed is, notwithstanding the presence of a djinn in the story and the magical sweep that actor Idris Elba and cinematographer John Seale lend to the telling of the story of a lonely, listless academic’s brush with a genie. Swinton describes the film as “real, precise, melodic and vivid.”

Return of ‘Mad Max’ composer

One link that ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’ has with ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, which was the opening film of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, is the Dutch music composer Tom Holkenborg. “Tom is a polymath,” says Miller. “I am non-musical. He gave me musical insights. I, in turn, gave him insights in terms of the drama in the film.”

A middle-aged professor, on a trip to Istanbul, picks up a bottle called Cesm-i-Bulbul (Eye of the Nightingale) from the Grand Bazaar. It has a djinn who goes on to reveal details of the thousands of years he has spent incarcerated. In the process of granting the narratologist three wishes, the djinn brings her face to face with herself.

On the transcendent quality of the film, Miller, 77, says, “I think most stories that we tell are allegorical. They are open to interpretation depending on who is watching it.”

The mix of its  Arabian Nights vibes and the intrusions of essential contemporary themes makes the film a quirky yet measured parable for our times. “I read the novella long ago and carried it in my head all these years. It was very rich and strong. It probed a lot of things,” he explains about the A.S. Byatt story from which the film is adapted.

A still from ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’.

A still from ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’.

Meanwhile, Elba believes that the film underscores the inescapable fact that wishing is a hazardous art — it is always a cautionary tale. Miller, on his part, says, “The point about making any wish is that one has to do something to make it happen. We want to wish away all the turmoil that the world is witnessing today, but it won’t go away unless we do something about it.”  Three Thousand Years… is a magical synthesis of, in co-writer Augusta Gore’s words, “science and myth, technology and magic, impermanence and immortality”. That is what, Elba feels, makes the film so tangible. “It just feels real. Everything in the story, except for the djinn, is true,” he says.

The writer is a New Delhi-based film critic.

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