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Review: The Great Magic


- Where some people see walls, others see the sea. Noémie Lvovsky offers up a joyous interlude in the form of a musical and a light-hearted parable on existential themes

Review: The Great Magic
Denis Podalydès in The Great Magic

"I’m a happy man: I don’t delude myself, I don’t expect any surprises from life and I don’t trust anyone", one person states. "It’s a big, astonishing, wonderful world. People are blind to what hides behind appearances", retorts another. So what exactly is the real state of affairs, between silent, suffering middle-class materialism and faith in the healing power of the imagination of entertainers whose precarious lives blithely flirt with fraud? And what about time? Love? Death? It’s by way of a playful experiment characterised by highly effective musical outbursts that Noémie Lvovsky (well-received in competition in Locarno in 1999, in Venice in 2003, and at the Directors’ Fortnight in 2012) has chosen to tackle these profound philosophical questions in her latest film, The Great Magic, which was screened in the opening slot of the 14th Les Arcs Film Festival, ahead of its French release on 8 February, courtesy of Ad Vitam.

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"I can only manage small illusions". It’s the 1920s, and in the Hotel Métropole - a vast, isolated residence bordering the coast and the forest - holiday-makers are distracted from their indolent boredom by a magic show put on by a small troupe, gypsy caravans in tow, consisting of the professor (Sergi López), his assistant and life partner Zaïra (Noémie Lvovsky), and a small family of three associates: Gabriel (François Morel) and his children Arthur (Damien Bonnard) and Amélie (Rebecca Marder). One audience member called Marta (Judith Chemla), however, makes the most of a disappearing act to take to her heels, fleeing the noxious jealousy of her husband Charles (Denis Podalydès) and the war-torn wear of their relationship ("who is this man behind the door? I no longer recognise him. There’s nothing left"). Obviously, the actors are all in on her escape, but they keep it secret, the professor even going so far as to pretend to her desperate husband - who’s consumed by guilt and the absence of love in their relationship - that his wife is hiding in a small box which he hands over to him: "if you believe in her, you’ll find her in this box. If you don’t believe in her, you’ll never find her". Bonds are formed and, several weeks later, after another drama unfolds (a real one, this time), Charles takes to the road with the small troupe, comforted by their advice ("you are time"), images and illusions... and signing cheques. What will become of them all? We’ll find out four years later… 

Loosely adapted from Eduardo de Filippo’s stage play La grande magia, the film’s musical tale unfolds in three acts, perfectly owning its relaxed and often funny air, with the entire cast acting with the right distance and transitioning into song and danse routines with delightful ease (courtesy of music composed by Feu! Chatterton and excellent choreography devised by Caroline Marcadet). The Great Magic offers viewers a healthy interlude, but it also tackles some highly universal subjects (life, death, time, love, etc.) in covert fashion, conveying its message by way of a parable which is also the message of all artists and positive thinkers: "Rainy day friends, all manner of time is on my side. Think of me one day, when you awaken."

Produced by Atelier de Production in co-production with Arte France Cinéma, Les Films du Poisson, and German firms NiKo Film and Bayerischer Rundfunk, The Great Magic is sold by Indie Sales.

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(Translated from French)

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