Kino Lorber // 2011 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 23rd, 2012
A whimsical tale about happiness
Though we think of the silent era stretching from cinema's origins to roughly 1927 (with the release of The Jazz Singer), sound technology actually grew up around the same time as the cinema. There are examples of synchronized sound as early as 1895, but due to a variety of technological and economic issues, what we think of as sound films didn't appear as a regular feature for decades after cinema's introduction. That meant that what happened in front of the camera had to be more visual than sonic, and numerous kinds of acting were born out of this "limitation." One of them was physical comedy. Sure, there were precedents -- the mime, the clown, the gymnast -- but cinema exploited physical comedy in ways unimaginable before the cinema. Imagine for a moment trying to stage Charlie Chaplin's iconic ride through the gears of the factory on a stage instead of on celluloid; it would be a nightmare. However, like many things, physical comedy was largely displaced with the coming of the sound film. After the initial failure of Chaplin's The Great Dictator, it took several decades for another masterpiece of physical comedy to arrive (with, I think, Jacques Tati's 1967 Playtime). Since then, physical comedy has been somewhat recouped, with actors like Rowan Atkinson incorporating large amounts of largely silent comedy into their characters. Though The Fairy (Blu-ray) is far from silent, its quirky charms lie largely in the way in which it incorporates physical comedy into modern-day France.
Dom (Dominique Abel, Rumba) is a hotel clerk, and not doing well when Fiona (Fiona Gordon, Rumba) shows up, claiming to be a fairy there to grant him three wishes. Dom wishes for a scooter and unlimited gas, and Fiona grants them happily. Then, she disappears with the third wish still ungranted. Dom must scour Le Havre to find his magical benefactor.
It should be obvious from the above that most physical comedians are lone dictators, acting, writing, and often directing their own work. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, even Rowan Atkinson took almost-sole control over their on-screen personas. The Fairy is different because instead of a single dictator, this film is the rare example of a physical comedy team. Co-writers, co-directors, and co-stars Dominque Abel and Fiona Gordon have been honing their unique brand of offbeat whimsy for three feature films now (L'Iceberg, Rumba, and now The Fairy). All their films are about couples in odd situations, though for my money, The Fairy's chase narrative is the best one so far.
What does The Fairy really offer, though? Well, as befits a film with this kind of title, The Fairy is a bit of a fairy tale. We've got the down-and-out protagonist transformed by his encounter with the magical (or the apparently magical, there are no actual fairies in The Fairy). In between the down-and-out and the magical transformation, we get a series of wonderful set pieces that include numerous dance moves and bits of physical comedy. Dom and Fiona travel La Havre, showing off the city along the way.
Perhaps more importantly, The Fairy isn't all whimsy. Fiona is not a magical fairy, but a mentally disturbed woman, and her antics with Dom are underscored with a touch of melancholy. This too puts Dominique and Fiona in league with their predecessors, as all the greats of silent comedy combined their own brand of whimsy with a darker or more somber idea (think the mechanization of labor in Modern Times).
This Blu-ray release of The Fairy supports the film's magical feeling. The 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfer does a fine job with the whimsical visuals of the film. The image is generally well detailed, with fine color saturation and consistent black levels. It looks a tad soft in places, but never so much that it interferes with the look of the film. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly strong. The French language track comes through clean and clear, though the surrounds don't get that much use (unsurprisingly), though there is a bit of separation with the film's score. English subtitles are included. Extras include the film's trailer, and a stills gallery.
Though The Fairy owes much to prior films, it is a uniquely brand of French whimsy. I use the term whimsy specifically because it evokes the lack of seriousness that The Fairy traffics in. I also use it because whimsical captures the ambivalent nature of the film; one person's whimsy is another boring, childish, or plain stupid. Because physical comedy of this type has so largely left the cinematic spotlight, The Fairy demands a lot of its viewers, especially those unfamiliar with Dom and Fiona's previous cinematic outings. We've asked to absorb this quirky tale of a night clerk, dancing, physical comedy, and mental institutions all in a single 94-minute film. Those not prepared for this level of quirk could easily turn The Fairy off after a few minutes.
If ever a film cried out for some more special features, it's this one. I would love some interviews with the stars, and more importantly, some behind-the-scenes featurettes. Some of the gags are impressively seamless, and I'd love to get an inside peek at how they were accomplished. It would also be nice to learn more about the setting, since Le Havre seems to be getting some love lately (see Le Havre, for example).
The Fairy is light fare, but for those looking for some little-seen silent comedy stylings, it serves well. The story is strangely magical, the actors are spot-on, and this Blu-ray does a fine job presenting everything. It's certainly worth a rental for the curious, and fans of the other Dom/Fiona matchups can purchase this disc with confidence.
Weird, yes, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery