The dynamic trio of filmmakers, Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy who gave us the delightfully enrapturing Rumba in 2008 have brought their dance/mime format back for another outing, The Fairy (La fée). Theirs is an old-fashioned, visual performance art that translates brilliantly on screen and is simply delightful to watch and totally unique in today’s action-stuffed, 3D cinematic arena.
In The Fairy, Abel plays hotel clerk Dom who leads a solitary life running a hotel at night. One evening he is interrupted eating his dinner and watching a film by a series of guests. The first is John, l’Anglais (Romy) who in pidgin French, asks for a room to stay in but has an unwanted four-legged friend in tow. The second is Fiona (Gordon) who claims to be a fairy and grants Dom three wishes. Dom falls for the enigmatic Fiona after two of his three wishes come true. But after a midnight swim, Fiona disappears and Dom searches all over Le Havre for the fairy.
The style of this film will not be to everyone’s taste but it’s such a compelling use of mime, dance and expression, in the place of a lot of speech that it’s like watching seasoned clowns at a circus perform to tell an old-fashioned fairy tale. There is a touch of the farcical about it all, a sort of balmy Gauloise eccentricity that is so deliciously endearing and sweet.
As in Rumba, you instantly fall for the characters’ distinct individuality and the awe-inspiring choreography that goes into the simplest-looking of routines. It’s clear that the trio favours the skills of the silent film era, and after The Artist, audiences are more predisposed to exploring this. In addition to the cinema vérité framing, there is a wonderful use of long shots to put the ridiculous nature of the whole situation in context – one in particular involves the exterior of the hotel and flapping, ruffled curtains as Dom struggles to catch his breath. These wide frames serve to concentrate our attention fully and force us to use some imagination too.
The Fairy’s good-natured kookiness is solely down to the engaging facial gurns from Abel and Gordon who with one look deliver the film’s emotional context in that one moment. The pair is so agile that watching them contort themselves into various gravity-defying shapes is equally astounding to behold. Whereas everything around them seems utterly illogical, these moments where they come together in dance serve as the film’s anchor points of poise and control, so that the whole affair does not spiral into lunacy.
Abel, Gordon and Romy are a breath of fresh air today, a love letter to cinema of a by-gone era. This is both their box office draw for those in the know and their curse as their films need to be seen to be fully appreciated, plus explaining their context always feels like undervaluing the work that has gone into them. For pure entertainment and high-spirited comedy value, The Fairy is as good as any gone before as a quirky introduction – once you have seen one of their films, you’ll never forget it that’s for sure.