American cinema
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Tilda Swinton (left) as Alithea Binnie and Idris Elba as The Djinn in director George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

ReviewCannes 2022: Three Thousand Years of Longing movie review – George Miller’s first feature since Mad Max: Fury Road is enchanting

  • This story stars Tilda Swinton as a solitary woman who buys a vase in Istanbul and discovers a genie, played by Idris Elba
  • She asks the genie for his life story, and we are treated to a litany of flashbacks and special effects in this charming tale

4/5 stars

“There is no story about wishing that is not a cautionary tale,” remarks Tilda Swinton’s lonely academic in George Miller’s beguiling fable, Three Thousand Years of Longing.

Premiering out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, this long-gestating project marks the Australian director’s first film in seven years, since his jaw-dropping Mad Max: Fury Road. By comparison, this latest outing is a far more sedate affair, though no less spectacular in places.

Swinton, looking as bookish as she can in glasses and a dog-tooth-check jacket, plays Alithea Binnie, a narratologist who arrives in Istanbul to give a lecture. There, in a store, she buys a blue-and-white vase, and back in her hotel bathroom starts cleaning it with her toothbrush.

Out pops a giant djinn (Idris Elba), who promises to give her three wishes, whatever her heart desires. At first, she closes her eyes, hoping it’s a trick of her mind, but she soon realises this sprite is here to stay.

There are rules – she cannot ask for immortality – but all too aware that such genies can be tricksters, Alithea is reluctant to ask for anything. Even for the return of the husband she lost to another woman.

The Asian movies premiering at the Cannes Film Festival 2022

Instead, she hears the Djinn’s story – how he was imprisoned by a magician and left to rot inside his tiny jail. “Can you imagine the loneliness?” he asks, perhaps words that cut Alithea open. She has no children, no parents, no siblings – just her work to keep her company.

Miller truly goes to town with the extended flashbacks. While Alithea’s brief backstory is part animated, it pales next to the genie’s epic story, involving sultans, naked concubines, epic battles and even the Queen of Sheba.

Based on A.S. Byatt’s short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, this is Miller’s tribute to the pleasures of narrative, of holding an audience in the palm of his hand. Swinton and Elba are perfectly cast as the storytellers here, two lost souls who find solace in each other’s company.

Endlessly imaginative, with a smart use of visual effects that really enhance the story, the film’s third act moves into poignant territory when Alithea returns to London and finally throws caution to the wind.

There’s a not-entirely successful sequence involving her bigoted neighbours and a cry for harmony that doesn’t quite land, but for the most part Three Thousand Years of Longing casts an impressive spell over you.

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook