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BLACK NIGHTS 2023 Competition

Review: The Magnet Man


- Gust Van den Berghe’s latest feature is a melancholic fairytale paying homage to circus and cinema

Review: The Magnet Man
Danny Ronaldo (left) and Isolda Dychauk (right) in The Magnet Man

Gust Van den Berghe’s much anticipated project The Magnet Man [+see also:
interview: Gust Van den Berghe
film profile
has been in the works for a long time and finally celebrated its world premiere at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival this week. Playing in official competition, the writer-director who won the 2014 Grand Prix with Lucifer [+see also:
film review
film profile
here tells the story of Lucien (Danny Ronaldo), a man who is a true human magnet — anything made of iron unexplainably sticks to him. After his mother’s demise and a surreal funeral, his father gives him a violin full of hidden banknotes and asks Lucien to wait for him at the train station. Lucien, however, gets stuck on one of the wagons and later ends up joining a small circus travelling through France.

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There, he meets Gervaise (an endearing Isolda Dychauk), the beautiful daughter of the circus’s ringmaster. Hired as a cleaner, Lucien dreams of becoming one of the travelling show’s artists, meanwhile falling in love with the girl. The clumsy man seems to have found his place in the world, but a sudden call from the past will bring him back to his small Belgian hometown.

Aesthetically and narratively speaking, the film pays homage to great cinema: in one scene viewers can experience the vibes of slapstick comedies or those of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz; in others they can enjoy an atmosphere that loosely recall the fairytale of Pinocchio, Tod Browning’s Freaks or even Federico Fellini’s films such as La strada or The Voice of the Moon. Yet all these references emerge in a rather organic fashion within the world constructed by the writer-director.

The script, however, is heavily indebted to some of the aforementioned works. Although it doesn’t offer anything particularly new, it remains engaging and enriched by poetic dialogue. Moreover, David Williamson’s cinematography and the score by David Van Keer and Birger Embrechts do a great job at recalling all the genres and styles the writer-director intends to pay homage to.

Danny Ronaldo (a circus artist here taking part in a film production for the first time) is a charismatic presence on screen. He manages to portray a naïve, dreamy man, and his clown-like physique certainly helps him accomplish this task. Certain supporting characters also stand out, in particular those played by Karel Creemers (starring as Cesar Malfait, Gervaise’s avid and annoying father) and Jan Bijvoet (who portrays Pladijs, the circus’ Pierrot Lunaire, perhaps the only character more naïve than Lucien).

All in all, Gust Van den Berghe’s film is a melancholic fairytale interspersed with moments of physical comedy and gentle romance. It’s a good story with the potential to attract younger audiences, but “adult enough” to form a connection with older spectators. 

The Magnet Man was produced by Minds Meet (Belgium), Les Films Fauves (Luxembourg), Lemming Film (the Netherlands), Coproduction Office (France) and Shelter Prod (Belgium). Coproduction Office are also in charge of the film’s international sales. 

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