Apparently, there’s something about Le Havre. Previously the star of Aki Kaurismaki’s eponymous shaggy dog tale, the spotlight is once again on this French port town in The Fairy (La fée), a delightfully absurd comedy opening Friday, May 4 at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas.
Dom (writer-director Dominique Abel, a scrawny string-bean who could easily pass for the love child of Steve Buscemi and Roberto Benigni) is night manager at a slightly seedy harborside hotel. He commutes to work on a rickety old bike, wears plastic bags to protect himself from the rain, and spends his shift camped in front of the telly with a tasty snack. Dom enjoys the simple things and evenings, apparently, are not very busy.
This evening, however, will prove to be different. Tourist John L’anglais (John Cleese lookalike Philippe Martz), a typically clueless Englishman who communicates via phrase book, wishes to stay the night with his pooch pal Mimi. When Dom informs him that dogs aren’t allowed in the hotel, John stashes Mimi in his plaid Gladstone bag — and, this being an absurdist comedy, Dom doesn’t cotton on to the ruse. The wily John checks in successfully and his remarkably mobile luggage walks itself upstairs.
Once again comfortably ensconced in front of the goggle box, Dom is interrupted a second time by another prospective guest — this time Fiona (loose-limbed Fiona Gordon), a woman who (unbeknown to Dom) has recently been a guest of the local mental hospital. Perhaps enchanted by her willingness to grant three wishes (two of which – a scooter and a lifetime supply of gas – she almost immediately bestows upon him), he books her into the mystically significant room 23.
An uncomfortable misadventure with a bottle cap brings the two closer together, after which they plan an evening out at the delightfully named Café L’amour flou (‘Love is blurred’). Possessing only a tee-shirt and pair of pink sweatpants, Fiona determines to make herself presentable for their date, setting off a delightful series of brilliantly choreographed set pieces during which she acquires a sun dress, a pair of shoes, and the friendship of sausage thief Fred Jr. (Vladimir Zongo) – all without benefit of cash.
Despite the worst efforts of the café’s bespectacled waiter (Bruno Romy), the date is a success — but, alas, the couple are separated after some midnight skinny dipping and an encounter with a giant clam. Dom awakens surfside naked and alone; Fiona in her old hospital room, pregnant and pursued by a syringe-wielding nurse. Is this the end for the young lovers, or will they find a way to reunite and raise a family?
The eighth film Abel and Gordon have made together (but the first I’ve seen), The Fairy has been favorably compared to the films of Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton. While such comparisons are quite apt, Abel and Gordon’s film is no lazy tribute to the masters of deadpan physical comedy, and also includes an extra ingredient – the phantasmagoric artificiality of Georges Méliès.
Despite its complete lack of off-color humor or bad language, be aware that The Fairy has as much potential to offend as to delight. Filmgoers sensitive to animal mistreatment, the stigmatization of the astigmatic, the foolishness of driving drunk, the abuse of medication while pregnant, the French revulsion for breastfeeding and the horrors of hospital smoking sections may wish to take in something a little more anodyne this weekend.
Footnote: The Fairy also features the best escape sequence ever filmed (sorry, The Great Escape and Le Trou), an apparent reference to The Who’s Quadrophenia, and a Kurt Weill song sung by a rugby player.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.
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