Flix at :48: 'Three Thousand Years of Longing' is abstract and dull
When I think of director George Miller ("Mad Max: Fury Road," 2015) I think of elaborate, large-scale action sequences full of fire and cars in the "Mad Max" movies. Or I think of the sweetly joyful "Happy Feet" movies with the animated dancing penguins. His new film, "Three Thousand Years of Longing," is neither a fast-paced adventure nor a lighthearted children's tale. It's in a hazy grey area (probably still fumbling around there) trying to decide what genre, or genres, it belongs in.
Tilda Swinton ("The French Dispatch," 2021) plays an independent scholar of storytelling attending a conference in Istanbul. When she buys a small glass bottle at a bazaar and accidentally opens it in her hotel room, she unleashes a magical spirit called a djinn, from Arabian and Muslim mythology, who grants her three wishes. But our leading lady is too skeptical to make any wishes since all stories like this end in destruction. (Would you want to end up in the center of a cautionary tale about human greed like all other stories starting with three wishes?)
"Three Thousand Years of Longing" is a strange and conflicted film that tries to be a historical fantasy and a realistic contemporary romance. It explores the importance of storytelling, each person's place in the world, the meaning of love and other abstract, reflective, inward-looking topics. It's probably all this heavy philosophical material that makes the film feel dull, sluggish and saddled with too many disparate ideas. The djinn's stories of his past masters are visually picturesque showing palaces in ancient Mesopotamia with voluptuous women and dazzling colors. But nothing feels exciting or passionate. The looks are there. But where is the emotion behind them?
Idris Elba ("The Harder They Fall," 2021) is adequate as the brawny, luscious djinn (sporting no shirt and lots of wisdom) but the chemistry between him and Tilda Swinton is non-existent. It's so non-existent I didn't even think this was a romance film until one whole day after I watched it. "Three Thousand Years of Longing" is adapted from the 1994 short story "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye" by British fantasy novelist A.S. Byatt. The story's impetus is unique and could have helped make a creative, eccentric viewing at the movie theater. But the writing is too unfocused and dry. I'm thinking a more accurate title for this film is "108 Minutes of Mild Introspection."