The Fairy (La fée, 2011)

Poster for The Fairy

Well, this is an oddball film. Quirky almost to a fault. I became interested in it because of the trailer and went in knowing almost nothing else about it or its creators. Now having done a precursory bit of googling, I’m still somewhat in the dark. The Fairy was written and directed by a trio who also play the main characters. They are Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy. Variety refers to them as a “Belgo-Canadian-French trio”. IMDb says Fiona Gordon was born in Australia. Her French accent certainly sounded non-French to me. I found an interview regarding a previous film (The Fairy is their third feature film) indicating that Abel and Gordon came out of contemporary burlesque theater.

So what is this strange film? It’s about a hotel night clerk (Abel) in Le Havre who gets involved with a goofy woman (Gordon) who claims to be a fairy who can grant him three wishes. As they fall in love, they become embroiled with the efforts of three illegal African immigrants to get across the channel to England, ultimately with the help of an Englishman who is staying in the hotel with his illegal dog and a nearly-blind barman (Romy) whose bar is called L’Amour Flou (translated as Blurred Love in the subtitles). (Apparently this pun on amour fou — mad love — is an old one, but I love it!)

It’s actually difficult to describe how this movie works. A lot of people compare it to Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. The comedy is very deadpan and absurdist. A lot of it is physical, although not necessarily (or solely) slapstick. There are dance sequences, for example, that are both goofy and oddly beautiful. There’s a plot of sorts, but it feels very episodic and digressive. Things are thrown in just for the hell of it, and sometimes it feels overly precious and other times the gags are just not that great. But then again, some of the sequences are absolutely hilarious and heart-warming and wonderfully weird.

I haven’t seen any Jacques Tati movies yet (I will, I will!), but I can see the Buster Keaton connection. Still, because it’s set in Le Havre, and because I recently saw Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre (2011), that’s what I was reminded of repeatedly. It has that same kind of funny-looking, gawky cast (Fiona Gordon even reminded me a little of Kati Outinen — another odd-looking beauty speaking French with an odd accent), it features similar lumpen proletarian characters wandering similar working class streets and semi-industrial areas. It has a similar whimsical, gentle, humanist humor. Both films have illegal African immigrants trying to make it to England. All that said, I think Le Havre is the better movie, even if the two films are trying to do somewhat different things in the end.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about The Fairy by the time it ran Fin. I absolutely loved parts of it, but other parts really didn’t work for me (for example, a man whose wish to fly is apparently granted, sort of, but whose prolonged shtick is almost painfully unfunny). I wasn’t sure if that was because I just didn’t fully get the sense of humor on offer (maybe the joke is that the guy’s shtick doesn’t fly), or whether it truly was flawed in places. I give it credit just for being so unusual in tone, despite the similarities to Le Havre. It’s good to be presented with something that hasn’t already been predigested for me. It’s good to feel stumped and hesitant to make a judgment. “Prends ton temps,” as the fairy Fiona keeps saying when Dom can’t think of a third wish. Take your time. Blurred love!

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