‘The Fairy’: Songs, Sight Gags And Silliness
Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
February 23, 2012
Deeply silly in a classic mode, The Fairy continues the French new wave of near-silent cinema. It’s the third in a series of clownish comedies made by a trio of writer-director-actors: Belgian Dominique Abel, Canadian Fiona Gordon and Frenchman Bruno Romy. Shaped by years on the road as neo-vaudevillians, their sensibility owes as much to 19th-century stage business as to Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati.
The sad-sack presence in the eye of the movie’s farcical hurricane is a Le Havre hotel night clerk named Dom (Abel). After his bicycle chain slips off repeatedly as he’s commuting to work in the rain, Dom dares indulge a dream: He’d like a motor scooter. Luckily, the second guest to arrive that evening is Fiona (Gordon), who identifies herself as a fairy and offers to grant him three wishes. He can think of only two.
The next day, Fiona delivers: a Vespa and a lifetime supply of gasoline. But there’s reason to suspect she’s more maniacal than magical. After Dom and Fiona spend an enchanted evening together, she’s apprehended and returned to the asylum from which she escaped. (It’s a high-rise, which makes Fiona the fairy-tale princess held in a dark tower.)
Still, there is some sort of voodoo in Fiona, as she proves by becoming nine months pregnant overnight. Her bulging form complicates Dom’s daring rescue, and soon Fiona has given birth to a great action-comedy prop: a helpless infant. For the film’s various preposterously precarious bits, Jimmy (Lenny Martz) is almost as useful as Mimi, the little white mutt who’s smuggled into the no-dogs-allowed hotel by British tourist John English (Phillippe Martz, the baby’s real-life father).
English speaks only phrasebook French — although rather too well — so he’s another outsider in a town run by officious nurses and ineffectual cops. Soon, English is involved with Dom and Fiona in a plot to smuggle three African refugees to Britain. This involves a lot of running and driving around, often with Jimmy at risk of becoming road kill. Among the hazards is a car under the command of a bartender (co-director Romy) so nearsighted that he’s essentially blind.
The success of The Artist probably explains the U.S. release of The Fairy; previous Abel-Gordon-Romy features attracted little stateside attention. The trio’s latest movie also includes an undersea-frolic scene that deliberately recalls the special-effects whimsies of George Melies, the conceptual hero of Scorsese’s Hugo.
Yet in themes — and location, of course — The Fairy is closer to Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre. Where The Artist salutes Hollywood, this movie is more Eurocentric, in the mode of another recent near-silent French movie, the Tati-celebrating Holidays by the Sea. The Fairy has more dialogue than those stylistic cousins, but most of its set pieces are wordless, and many of the lines pull their humor from the hearer’s lack of comprehension.
The film isn’t quite sheer wizardry. It’s too long, padded by song-and-dance numbers that end well after they’ve scored their points. At its most ordinary, the buffoonery recalls the heavy-handed yuks of Francis Veber, the French farceur whose movies have often been remade in Hollywood.
Yet this outing’s virtues are considerable, and suitably old-fashioned: physical dexterity, sustained visual gags that reliably pay off, and long takes that sometimes hide a scene’s most outrageous events in the background or off to one side. For all its brazen goofiness, The Fairy is subtly designed to reward careful viewing. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]