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Most likely you haven’t see The Fairy, a French movie with a story composed of brilliantly funny sequences of almost silent comedy. Advertising for the film compares it to the slapstick work of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati and in a sense that’s true — especially in regard to some of the work of Jacques Tati. But slapstick is a small part of this curious film.
The two central actors are Dominique Abel (playing Dom) and Fiona Gordon (playing Fiona), two members of a well known comedic trio that includes Bruno Romy who has a small role in this movie. The story is set in a gritty stretch of urban seaside in the ugly industrial port city of Le Havre.
Dom is the night clerk in a small hotel when Fiona, barefoot and in a rain-soaked jersey and baggy sports trousers, enters and asks for a room. She also announces that she’s a fairy and will grant him three wishes. Dom asks for 1) a motor scooter (during the credits we saw him peddling a bicycle with a loose chain through the rain) and 2) a lifetime supply of free gasoline. He can’t think of a third wish and Fiona tells him to take his time.
It has to be said that neither Fiona nor Dom are beautiful people. Quite the contrary, they have extraordinarily plain faces and thin angular bodies. But they have a certain fluidity of motion, especially Fiona, and after they fall in love the viewer is on their side, hoping they’ll survive the twists and turns of the movie. (The not-so-beautiful faces of these two reminds us that you don’t have to be beautiful to be genuinely in love, and it can happen in an ugly industrial port city, too.) The plot is a bizarre linear farce in which each scene leads logically to the next, but always with unexpected results.
Fiona can grant Dom’s wish for free gasoline by giving the woman who manages huge gasoline storage tanks the key to her hotel room (the woman needs a place to meet her lover) in exchange for the key to a storage tank outflow pipe. In the movie there’s a café named Love is Blurred — an inexplicably odd name until we get to the café and discover that the owner, played by Bruno Romy, isn’t blind but extraordinarily nearsighted. (It may take a moment to get that one.)
There are a couple of minor sub plots which are neatly linked to the main plot. The central story is that Fiona disappears and Dom finds her in a hospital for the local nut cases from which she probably escaped prior to reaching his hotel. In the course of the movie Fiona gets pregnant more or less by willing it, producing a bulge with the speed and sound effects of blowing up a balloon. And later she delivers the baby in an equally unusual fashion. Whether Fiona is truly crazy or just a simpleton fairy doesn’t really matter. How he rescues her and how they get away together makes for 94 minutes of very, very light entertainment. This whimsical tale is on DVD disk in French with English subtitles. Check it out.
Not all nicely made movies are interesting — in fact, some are quite dull — and not all badly made movies deserve to be ignored. A badly made movie that you might want to look at came from France two years ago. It wasn’t widely viewed here. It’s Change of Plans (Le code a change), directed by Daniele Thompson, written by Christopher Thompson, who also acts in it, and Daniele Thompson.
The central event of the movie is a dinner party (yes, yes, this is French cinema) of ten friends and acquaintances, most of them in their forties, some in a profession, legal or medical. By and large, they’re an unhappy lot — this one is having an affair, that one is on the verge of leaving her husband, another hates her father, and one is close to burning out in his job, and so on. In fact, there are too many characters — too many for us to keep track of and too many for the director to dramatize in satisfying depth. Furthermore, we learn about the characters’ private lives by a series of intercut flashbacks, not all of them easy to follow. OK, the movie has problems.
Nonetheless, this is an interesting movie. The rather slapdash dinner party is completely believable, the dialog is good and the characters are engaging. We enjoy their company, despite their occasionally really bad behavior. This is, by the way, one of the few movies to show how cell phones have changed the rules when it comes to secret love notes. Because it’s an ensemble cast, and a good ensemble, no one stands out as a central figure, but Karen Viard (wonderfully energetic despite the apparently thickening body of an early forties woman) is the hostess, Marie-Laurence ‘ML’ Claverne, a lawyer, and is central to the movie in that way. Her character’s younger sister Juliette is played with irritable conviction by Marina Hands, and Emmanuelle Seigner does a good job as Sarah Mattei, a woman on the make. Pierre Arditi and Patrick Chesnais do a fine job and some nice comic turns as older men. But, in fact, the male roles tend to recede into the background, another weakness in this movie. And yet, and yet… It may be a movie you did well not to spend big bucks on at the local cinemaplex, but it’s worth watching on a rented DVD, and you get some good bonus features as well.