In THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING (2022), a lonely academic who studies story encounters a djinn, who wants to be freed by granting three wishes. The academic, however, knows all the stories of wishes going wrong, setting up a contest of wits and wills. This is a charming movie, though its last act appears grafted on to bring the film into a meh finish.
Alithea (Tilda Swinton) is an academic who lives a life of reason and studies story for a living. While attending a conference in Istanbul, she is struck by visions, which suggest some destiny, though this is never explained. She encounters a bottle and releases a djinn (Idris Elba, born for this role), who offers to grant three wishes in return for his freedom. The only problem is as a woman who has studied story her entire life, she knows all the cautionary tales about making wishes. She also feels complete, and so has no heart’s desire from which to make a wish.
The first two acts of the film take place largely in Alithea’s hotel room, where she negotiates with the djinn while he tells her stories about his doomed interactions with humans in the past. The backstories are heavily CGI’d along with the initial appearance of the djinn. That and the playful narrative make the whole thing feel like a Disney movie for adults, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you just run with it. Like I said, the whole thing is charming, and the stories themselves are fanciful and interesting, building an overall narrative.
Swinton plays her part with crisp efficiency; Elba fully inhabits his role and as usual chews the scenery. The only problem is this is supposed to be a love story of sorts, and they don’t really have any chemistry. Which brings me to the third act, where we get to the love story, which would be fine only besides a lack of chemistry feels utterly grafted on, along with a subplot involving bigotry. A lot of happens in the third act, but it feels rushed and out of character for Alithea. This is a story we need to be shown instead of told for emotional impact, but it feels like telling.
All that being said, though, overall I liked THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING enough for its positive qualities. Despite the strange pacing and meh conclusion, it had its charms, I was entertained, I enjoyed Elba’s performance a lot, and for these things, I was happy enough.