The Fairy Dir. Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy

[Kino Lorber; 2011]

Styles: absurdist comedy, fantasy
Others: Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, Elf

The Fairy is set in the grimy, industrial port town of Le Havre, France, and it is precisely this backdrop of utilitarian drabness that is such a perfect foil for the joy and silliness that the actors bring to the film. The film’s main characters — Dom and Fiona (Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon), a real-life couple of professionally-trained clowns who wrote and directed the film along with Bruno Romy — waltz through the hard, ugly city, turning everything, including and especially their bodies, into as-yet-undiscovered playthings.

The basic plot is a love story between Dom, a sad sack night watchman at a less-than-swank seaside hotel, and Fiona, the fairy. When the movie opens, Dom is (barely) riding his dilapidated bike in the rain along the sea with an old lady-ish plastic bonnet on his head. Enough said. Fiona shows up at the hotel without shoes or baggage, announces she is a fairy, and grants him three wishes. For the first two wishes, he asks for a scooter and a lifetime supply of gas. Dom wakes up in the morning, et voilà ! Le scooter est là.. Dom and Fiona meet up at a bar named L’amour Flou, run by an extremely myopic man, and proceed to fall in love in a choreographed underwater sequence, have a baby, and evade various authorities through a variety of stunts and mad chases.

For the first 45 minutes of the film, I had a sort of perma-grin, watching these very skilled clowns do what good clowns do: make a complete joke out of every boring rule or code of human behavior by acting like martians on their first trip to earth. Even when you know where a gag is going to end up, it is delightful to watch it choreographed so smoothly. When Fiona needs some new clothes, she grabs the first dress she sees from a mannequin in a window, changes right there, and heads off for shoes. She tries on a pair of yellow pumps, then asks for a pair of running shoes in which to, well, run. It’s sturdy stuff that provides the same kind of pleasure as watching Will Ferrell’s elf earnestly congratulate a mystified diner owner on his sign for “world’s best cup of coffee.”

About halfway through, however, my grin began to wear itself out, and I wanted the movie to just hurry up and finish. It’s hard to say if it’s my own personal preference for verbal comedy that was spurring my impatience or if anyone could be content to watch even incredibly well-done physical gags for an hour and a half. Authentic charm is a necessary ingredient in this kind of enterprise, and Dom and Fiona have it in spades, but a 90-minute feature needs more than cleverness and quirk to keep me invested in finding out how all the threads will tie together — or what Dom’s third wish will be.

Still, directors Abel, Gordon, and Romy do make magic in the film’s pockets of unadulterated fun and zaniness in the midst of a town that itself seems a caricature of post-war European grimness and austerity. Shots of a darkened city with one lit room &mdash in which we can only see a figure climbing up the drapes or flailing around — is a recurring trope that speaks volumes about a viewpoint that invites us to look closer, to find the absurdity that lies in wait all around us. And a subplot about the logistical and monetary shenanigans involved in trying to sneak some illegal immigrants into England wonderfully sends up the illogicality of the laws and societal barriers we are so used to. Without question, these clowns are no fools. And maybe it’s just that I’ve become a crusty adult without a childlike sense of wonder, but for all these artists’ skilled work, I would’ve been much happier if they’d pulled off the astonishing feat of doing it in half the time.

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