March 5, 2018  (Web Review)

The Dream of Shahrazad

(2015) 107 min. DVD: $375. Grasshopper Film ( PPR.

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

South African filmmaker Francois Verster presents a portrait of striving, dysfunction, disillusionment, and hope in the Middle East, chiefly from the point-of-view of Arab social-justice activists and artists. An opening statement—punctuated by a Rimsky-Korsakov concert in Istanbul—compares this material to the composer’s heroine Scheherazade (aka Shahrazad), the virgin bride who told different but never finished stories nightly to stall her execution by an insane tyrant Sultan. This appears to be the aesthetic justification for the freeform flow of sequences here, which include readings from dissident literature; interviews with Lebanese filmmakers haunted by civil war; news footage of riots across the region during the Arab Spring; visits to the grieving families of political martyrs; and vintage-movie evocations (including cutout animation) of the Arabian Nights. Egypt’s tumultuous regime changes repeatedly come up in the troubling, ironic collages in this heavily philosophical documentary that may serve as an artistic complement to films such as The Square (VL-1/16), which presented these issues in more straightforward linear fashion. A strong optional purchase. Aud: C, P. (C. Cassady)