For the past year and half Scheherazade has been awake through the night telling stories to King Shahryar. This real marathon is nothing but a ploy devised with her sister’s complicity to try to stop the king’s bloodthirsty madness in his decision to wed a new maiden every evening, only to have her killed by dawn. Scheherazade has managed to escape this foretold condemnation to death every night by leaving her stories unfinished with the promise to continue the following night; and so the King decides to spare her life in order to continue listening to the tales that delight him so. Many more nights will have gone by – one thousand and one in total – before Shahryar realises that he should neither kill Scheherazade nor wed another woman. But that is not part of this film: the narrative device of the ‘Arabian nights’ book is relatively well known and we rely on this fact being part of the collective folk universe to focus mainly on the stories Scheherazade tells. And these will be different than the ones we know from the book.
In the book we read tales of kings and princesses, merchants and slaves, fishermen and warriors, jinni of the lamp and talking animals. There are paupers who become rich. There are powerful men who will have lost everything in the blink of an eye. There are fables with an obvious moral value and anarchic stories apparently without one. Some tales are comical, other tragic; there are also libertine and prudish ones… Almost all have a touch of surrealism and a certain excess that materialises in violence, eroticism and sarcasm. They happen in cities of the Middle East, India, North Africa, China…
In our movie, Scheherazade’s stories happen in Portugal. Not in a Portugal of the age of the book, but in present day Portugal with its economic crisis and social ebullition.
It is Portugal in 2013-14, inhabited by rich and poor, powerful and insignificant people, workers and unemployed, thieves and honest men. It is also a delirious and excessive Portugal marked by the consequences of the crisis.
In this film, we intend to do two things simultaneously: 1) to take up the delirious fictional spirit of the ‘Arabian Nights’ and especially reaffirm, through this and with this the bond that unites the King and Scheherazade (the imperious need for stories), and 2) to outline a portrait or chronicle of Portugal during a whole year (at a time when the country is subject to the effects of ‘austerity measures’ created by the Troika’s financial aid package). Fiction and social portrait, flying carpets and strikes. These are two dimensions that are apparently unrelated or that we have grown used to arrange in different boxes, as it were. But imagination and reality have never been able to exist without each other (and Scheherazade knows this well).
Due to the nature of this project, this synopsis will seem increasingly further away from a normal synopsis. In reality, in our version of the ‘Arabian Nights’ Scheherazade’s stories are based on events that have not yet taken place – those that will happen in Portugal in the next twelve months, generating a body of stories and characters that, for the moment, we are only able to imagine. It is therefore impossible to describe in a synopsis what the film will be.
At best, what we can do here – and to finish- is to reiterate once again the basic principle that guides the storyteller: will Ali Baba be able to escape the cave before the 40 thieves arrive? Will Portugal be able to avoid a second aid package and return to the markets?
(At this point in her narration, Scheherazade saw the day break and, discretely, fell silent).