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Last year's The Artist was a real anomaly, a French-produced film that the AMPAS honored as Best Picture of the year. The Academy has been known to rally around some strange titles, as to this reviewer The Artist seemed and amusing and slick but predictable revisit of nostalgic favorites like Singin' in the Rain. Making a much more positive impression is this micro-brewed Gallic bonbon, a quirky character comedy that evokes the spirit of earlier greats without blandly copying them. Imagining a bit of Buster Keaton deadpan mixed with Jacques Tati eccentricity gets one close to the goofy spell of The Fairy. Adding a dash of modern dance and Cirque de Soleil spectacle helps as well.
A genuinely off the wall comedy, The Fairy is the brainchild of three writer-director-actors who seem unlikely candidates for screen stardom. Both Dominque Abel and Fiona Gordon are nobody's idea of photogenic beauty -- at first. Yet by the ten minute mark they seem far more beautiful than the conventionally glamorous stars of The Artist.
The Fairy is not a silent movie, but its simple story is as easy to follow as a Charlie Chaplin two-reeler. Dom (Dominique Abel) is the lonely night man at a small hotel in Le Havre. His midnight sandwich is interrupted by the appearance of Fiona (Fiona Gordon), a gangly but poised woman with no shoes and no luggage. Fiona identifies herself as a fairy and offers to grant Dom three wishes. At first just annoyed, Dom finds himself attracted to Fiona, especially after she seemingly grants two of three wishes. In pursuing her around the city's waterfront Dom becomes entangled in the odd activities of John, an Englishman who sneaks a small dog into his hotel room (Philippe Martz) and the near-blind owner of a café called l'Amour Flou (fellow writer and director Bruno Romy). Between bouts of petty thievery, footloose Frenchmen ask John to smuggle them to England. Dom and Fiona fall in love after skinny dipping at the beach and Dom loses his job. But his love for Fiona stays strong even when he finds that his "fairy" has stolen the motor scooter he wished for. Pursued by the gendarmes, Dom seems too wise to ask for his third wish -- which might break the spell of love.
The Fairy has the substance of a soap bubble but is just as buoyant. The emotionally insulated Dom opens up under the kind attentions of his friend Fiona, who looks like a homeless person yet claims to be a magic fairy. Le Havre seems the kind of place where one doesn't question people with different viewpoints. Dom is well aware that Fiona and the sneaky John are taking advantage of him. He just doesn't care.
The exact tone of fun engendered by The Fairy isn't easy to describe. Much of the comedy is visual slapstick, with the expected pratfalls and physical gags. Chase scenes tend toward pictorial formality, favoring symmetrical compositions. The police are more often than not inattentive and slow, as in a Chaplin film. The field of view is often a bit wide, as if inviting new action to enter the frame. Many scenes rely on a deadpan sense of stasis. Images hold still on certain situations even when the action slips off-screen one way or the other. At several junctures Dom and Fiona commence an impromptu modern dance act. An odd stylized dance at the bottom of the ocean looks like a scene from a Georges Méliès movie, and is perhaps meant to represent the couple making love. The film's directorial attitude is so fresh that a brief scene of nudity is liberating. Fiona might not be a real fairy, but she is a free spirit.
The unpredictable series of events in this mix of fantasy and realism has but one rule - Dom and Fiona will struggle to stay together. Fiona is incarcerated in a mental establishment and struggles to communicate with Dom on a distant rooftop across the city. At times her fairy powers seem an illusion, yet it appears that an earlier beneficiary of one of her wishes has the ability to fly. The overall theme eventually settles on the creation of a family, but handled in an almost abstract way. While in the asylum Fiona's belly swells up instantaneously, inflating like a balloon. It's no ruse: she and Dom are soon fleeing the police with a tiny baby in tow.
All is not perfect, as the show doesn't quite find a satisfactory finish. A concluding chase uses a computer-assisted matte to illustrate a cartoonish moment of jeopardy for the proud parents and their infant. Other less obtrusive computer visuals are present but the finale of this wonderfully 'organic' comedy could have used something less artificial. The joke of the baby in danger, even at this comic level, also takes some of the fun out of the sequence. Yet The Fairy's magic spell is undiminished.
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of The Fairy gives us a stunning HD transfer of this delightful show in its original French with English subtitles. As the verbal aspect of the movie is subordinated to its visual gags, subtitle-allergic viewers will not be unduly taxed.
The presentation comes with an original trailer and a brief stills gallery. Seeing this little gem has set this reviewer on the trail of earlier Dominique Abel / Fiona Gordon pictures. 2005's L'iceberg is a whimsical tale of a woman that is accidentally locked in a convenience store freezer. In response she leaves her husband and sets off for the arctic to find her destiny. 2008's Rumba matches the expressive, talented dancing couple with a Latin dancing theme. It sounds ideal.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Fairy Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.