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Cannes review: George Miller dips into romantic fantasy with Three Thousand Years of Longing

A man cannot live on Thunderdomes alone, apparently. Somewhere between the twinned dystopias of 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road and its upcoming prequel Furiosa, due in 2024, director George Miller must have felt the urge for a palate cleanser. The result is Three Thousand Years of Longing, which premiered last night at the Cannes Film Festival — a glossy cinematic knickknack steeped in the heady unreality of a fable, or a dream.

Even its casting feels like Mad Libs: Tilda Swinton is Alithea Binnie, a London “narratologist,” or professional studier of stories; Idris Elba is the immortal djinn she meets when she goes to an academic conference in Turkey and finds herself drawn to a unassuming glass bottle at a marketplace stall. A primly self-contained woman with a round-voweled accent and an Anna Wintour wedge, Alithea is, she insists, “adequately happy alone”: no parents, no children, no partner. But visions have followed her since she landed in Istanbul  — fierce, outlandish creatures trailing iridescent vapors like space dust in their wake.

And when she takes her toothbrush to a stubborn spot of grime on the little blue-and-white vial she's brought back from the bazaar to her hotel room, a house-sized Elba emerges in a hurricane swirl of glittering red and blue. He can make himself human-scale, and adapt to her English; he can even conjure a bathrobe and a full Babylonian breakfast. But what he's really there to offer is three wishes, strictly her heart's desire. Alithea wants none of it: She's heard tales like these enough times to know they're all cautionary in the end, and she demands, at the least, to know how he got here.

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