An invitation to dream
by Fabien Lemercier
24/08/2011 - Escapes and humour in the best tradition of burlesque cinema marked the opening of Directors’ Fortnight at the 64th Cannes Film Festival with French-Belgian co-production The Fairy [trailer, film focus] directed by Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel and Bruno Romy.
Worthy heirs of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Mack Sennet, and even Jacques Tati, the directing trio of L’iceberg [trailer] (parallel section at the 2005 San Sebastian Festival) and Rumba [trailer, film focus] (Cannes Critics’ Week 2008) have developed a creatively rich work in La Fée, shaping a timeless piece of poetic “tightrope-walking”.
Not shirking from any boldness (outrageous disguises, wacky choreographies, endless chases, and perfect coincidences), a string of comical gags and homemade special effects in the spirit of the deliberate naivety of silent film, the three directors and protagonists are not merely extraordinarily talented clowns, however. Their film softly trots out the metaphor of a contemporary world trapped by loneliness, routine and the bitterness of life, where humans dream of being elsewhere, love, mutual help, and even illegal immigration.
The fairy of the title is Fiona, who enters the life of Dom, a sort of social misfit working night shifts in a hotel in the port town of Le Havre. Her arrival on the scene sets the tone, as she tells him, "I am a fairy, you have three wishes”. They fall in love at first sight, as Dom accidentally swallows a ketchup bottle cap in a sandwich.
Saving him from choking with an unusual (and hilarious) gesture, Fiona then performs an impressive tantric massage before disappearing into thin air. They meet again two days later at the Café de L’amour Flou" (owned by Romy, blinder than a bat). A string of eventful episodes follow, as our heroes attempt to overcome the many obstacles, including an English-speaking client of the hotel (and his dog) and as three illegal African immigrants longing to head to England. They all end up forming a group of extraordinary crackpots, breaking the law as they are chased by burlesque police officers.
Exploiting the art of silence to the upmost, body language and the visual impact of the situations (and the very natural cinematographic setting of Le Havre) gives rise to smiles and laughs, The Fairy makes exceptional use of accessories (scooters, baby chairs, costumes) with a hilarious birthing scene as the climax. The protagonists escape asylum, fall on stairs, jump off a cliff; a car zigzags as a forgotten baby lies on the rear bonnet (with illegal immigrants crammed into the boot) and a tank of petrol explodes.
Fiona and Dom’s relationship isn’t exactly smooth, but as a song in the film suggests, this "vagabond boat" sailing along like a jazz improvisation transports the audience into a universe filled with daydreaming, happiness, pleasure and craziness, a refreshing respite from a "planet where we leave all worries behind".