The Fairy is a romantic slapstick comedy set in Le Havre. The opening scene is quite beautifully shot: Dom (Dominique Abel) rides his bike along the port in the beating rain, charming in his combination of plastic head- and shoe- and torso-coverings and undaunted vigor. Due to an uncooperative bike chain, Dom arrives late to the hotel where he works the night shift at the front desk. I’ll mention straight-off that the slapstick is of relatively uninventive, almost stock quality and that I didn’t laugh even once (although I’m almost certain I smiled a couple of times), but that certainly other reviewers in the audience responded in varying degrees of titillation. A woman seated ahead of me laughed raucously. It was the spitting prototype of raucous laughter, erupting throughout the first few scenes of the film and tapering off rather quickly after that, as if the woman had uncontrollably burned up all of the entertainment from the inside out and was left recourse only to an occasional ominous sputtering hahaha for the remaining duration. Her early investment triggered, or at least encouraged, a more continual laughter from a man seated to my right, laughter that was archetypically hysterical, the kind of tittering that makes you want to put a hand on the person’s shoulder, look into their eyes, and ask them what’s wrong — and this is the same man who I’d later suspect of squirming in his seat in my peripheral vision during the few shots of frankly innocuous and non-threatening on-screen nudity and displays of affection.
Right, so Dom works in a hotel. He just wants to eat a ketchup-doused sandwich and watch something on his old TV (probably something historically significant, film-wise, as the music from the TV plays in another couple of scenes). He’s interrupted several times, including by a voluptuous alter-ego of Tilda Swinton, the eponymous The Fairy herself, Fiona (Fiona Gordon). After enduring Dom’s pissy attitude and saving him from choking to death on the cap of the ketchup bottle, Fiona gives him a massage and grants him three wishes. Dom wishes first for a scooter, second for free gas, and third for… well, that’s for you to find out. Then again, I guess I may as well bring that up now. The best part of the film, for me, and one of the only fractions that calls to me in the way that I’m usually most attuned to, which is to say theoretically or conceptually or abstractly, which is a way of saying, as I’ve sometimes suspected and am increasingly willing to admit, that I usually inhabit my role as viewer/critic heavily on the side of critic, and in a very specific interpretation of that role as a kind of system of serious-intentioned, universal-minded heuristic operations — let me start again: one of the only moments of The Fairy that settled on my attention as potentially open to my possibly self-indulgent or evasive-in-spite-of-deep-concern-for-responsibility-to mode of analysis is that Dom never decides on his third wish. Fiona asks him periodically, often in the midst of some upheaval, and more often than not during a chase, whether he’s thought about what he wants his third wish to be; Dom always looks unprepared and answers no. Which I think is great, and if I may allow myself some space for speculation, I’d say the only way that Dom and Fiona’s quite literally fairytale romance and flatness of affect (to be taken as contentedness or abiding possibility for real happiness) to endure is for Dom to perpetually defer the moment of closure. It’s no mistake that the woman is the savior and the fairy and the subordinate, and the man on the other hand is the subject, both in the sense of being subjected to the power and magic and strength of the woman while at the same time being where the buck stops, ultimately, in terms of both desire and direction.
So to continue a long story, Fiona and Dom get themselves into a fair bit of trouble. I’ll give you a linear rundown of what-all trouble transpires or serves as a backdrop: petty theft, forced psychiatric hospitalization, accidental tranquilizer abuse, unemployment, illegal immigration, homelessness, debilitating blindness, unplanned pregnancy, drunk driving, and prison. It’s all broached or not-really-broached by clowns or clowning characters, which contributes to the difficulty of resolving the film’s raison d’être. The overall tone or modality is light, unburdened, yet the content, surface action, and even the kernel of willed-happiness-and-desire that the film seems to be driving at in a sometimes coy or merely willfully unsophisticated way all suggest that the film plays for and to an adult audience. Which is all possibly further complicated by the fact that there’s a scene in a bar in which Dom and Fiona’s newborn is crying, and in order to assuage the child, a woman rugby player among her teammates sings very soulfully and movingly a song about the island of desire being ultimately an island of fantasy and folly, and this song effectively lulls the infant to sleep. Which is almost ironic, given what I read as the film’s occupation with entertaining adults and furthermore doing so by a seemingly intentional cover-up of the rather painful truths rendered in song, as if the child can only fall asleep to a signal that passes for him as noise, while we as an adult audience are even presumed to find entertainment or enjoyment or artistic fulfillment, precisely in those durations when we’re consuming images of extraordinarily low-stakes obligation and consequence and affect, as though we wanted to receive only the most obvious signals — the opposite of noise being another species of noise, in a way. That somehow the glorification of the insecurity and awkwardness and vulnerability of all of the film’s characters obscures the irremediable insecurity and mortal vulnerability we all spend so much of our adult lives refusing to even catch a glimpse of, representationally.
And yet, after typing what is, at the point at which I type the number, 1,002 words on little other than the premise and staging and possible occupations or preoccupations of The Fairy, I can’t really avoid confronting the possibility that I’ve shirked or otherwise dodged the critical seriousness that I imagine myself responsible to, especially given what I’ve said above about the possible connection between the film’s failure to make me laugh and its lack of gravity or allusion to gravity. What can I say about this film qua film? Not much, it turns out. Surely that has some bearing on my comportment as the two men checking reviewers in at the screening room asked for my name, then for my affiliation, which if you couldn’t guess I was sort of timid about, not because I had any doubts whatsoever about the logistical correctness of my being at that particular place at that particular time, but because I felt, probably unbeknownst to the cinema people, that I was basically a fraud, like whatever talents or interests I have that would warrant letting me in to see the movie were simply irrelevant next to the common professionalism (and post-twenties appearance) of the other reviewers.
But that’s not even what I wanted to close with. What I actually wanted to say is that my friend recently used the verb to digest idiomatically in a text message, which got me thinking about how most stuff we encounter we don’t really register in a meaningful way but rather absorb or process without remainder, whereas the stuff that really gets to us often sinks in and resists incorporation and so has to be digested — part of it extracted and assimilated into the body, the other part excreted as evidence of this process — as if all creativity were somehow stercoraceous, all art shit. But so The Fairy was either not shitty enough for me or not impacted enough within or impacting enough on my own assiduously operating digestive or data processing system to produce shit. But of course that’s not strictly true, now that I’ve written this review.
[Produced under the influence of The Pale King, in remembrance of “The Suffering Game.”]