‘Once Upon a Genius’ is a strange and fascinating adult fairy tale – 01/09/2022

“Once Upon a Genius” took me by surprise. Not that the director of “Mad Max: Fury Road”, throughout his career, left clues about what he prepared in his box of surprises.

From “The Witches of Eastwick” to “Happy Feet”, through “Lorenzo’s Oil” and “Babe, the Piggy in the City”, his eclecticism has always walked alongside extreme technical rigor and stories of unsuspected sensitivity. An adult fairy tale, however, was not on the radar.

Behold, Miller, seven years after making one of the best films of modern cinema, slows down in intensity and returns to the scene with an independent fable, fascinating in its weirdness, plastically exuberant and without fear of asking questions that are not always with easy answers.

Tilda Swinton finds the bottle that will start a very strange journey

Image: Paris

Above all, “Once Upon a Genius” is a film about the nature of stories, about the art of perpetuating moments with words. It is not by chance that Alithea, Tilda Swinton’s character, is a narratologista researcher specializing in differentiating what stories have in common and what sets them apart.

Traveling to Turkey for a conference on the role of modern mythology in the contemporary world, and the edge of myth and science, she reveals that her mind plays tricks on her, sometimes creating hallucinations in which elements of the stories she works on at an academic level. appear in front of you.

These worlds collide when she takes a small glass jar from a tourist shop, one of thousands in Istanbul, to her hotel room. It is with disconcerting calm that Alithea frees a genie trapped in a bottle from a centuries-old imprisonment.

Our minds, bred by years and years of fantastical stories, are trained to hope that the genius, played with disconcerting charm and melancholy by Idris Elba, will grant Alithea her three wishes and the plot will take its extraordinary course.

Instead, Miller shatters expectations when Tilda Swinton’s character, hardened to the tragic nature of tales with mystical desires, sets out to hear the story of her unexpected guest.

What follows is a story that travels through centuries, in which the genie recounts his misfortunes, chained by the personality of the one who once controlled him. Alithea hears stories about the Queen of Sheba, about kings and slaves, about sages and concubines. It’s a journey through every fragment that led him to that moment, with that person, in that hotel room.

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Idris Elba is the genius who doesn’t yearn to return to his prison

Image: Paris

By exploring the purpose and importance of storytelling, especially in its oral tradition, “Once Upon a Genius” does not shy away from existential exploration, represented by Alithea’s resistance to revealing her heart’s desires.

When she questions the very reason for the genius’s existence, and refuses to follow the “script” of such a fantastic encounter, she provokes a reflection on loneliness, on the limits of romantic fantasies and on the sacrifices made for love.

All this is framed by a playful and elegant setting, with the tales of the genius finding their counterpart in the reality of a hotel room, or a house in the suburbs of London. The modern world doesn’t seem to match the stuff dreams are made of.

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Director George Miller in ‘Once Upon a Genius’

Image: Paris

George Miller is right now in the middle of producing “Furiosa”, which explores the origins of the warrior played by Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road”, now defended by Anya Taylor-Joy.

It’s only natural that he wanted to recharge his creative batteries in a story of lesser scope, exchanging the intensity of the post-apocalyptic world for one that was less violent and more playful. The urgency of “Mad Max” doesn’t exist here, nor the same technical and narrative precision – at times the focus becomes more opaque, the motivations gain an unexpected haste.

These are minor sins offset by the strangely pragmatic and utterly engaging interpretations of Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton. “Once Upon A Genius” may have its fantastic visuals as the biggest gimmick. But it is the delicate interplay between its protagonists that makes the film a fascinating and original experience, of rare beauty and that nestles comfortably in some dusty corner of our desires.


The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Genius strange fascinating adult fairy tale

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