CANNES — Dishing out another slew of colorfully anarchistic sight gags, Belgium-based trio Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy are back with their latest Keystone-style romp, The Fairy (La Fee). Firmly grounded in the work of Chaplin, Keaton and especially Jacques Tati, to which they add a few welcome socio-political twists, these talented writers-directors-actors should have their wish granted with further arthouse exposure following an opening bow in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.
Set in the gloomy port city of Le Havre, the film kicks off with its most successfully extended number when we’re introduced to a hotel night clerk, Dom (Abel), who’s pleasant soiree in front of the TV is interrupted with the arrival of an English tourist (Philippe Martz), and then of a svelte, shoeless woman (Gordon), who claims she’s a fairy and grants Dom three wishes. Like any self-respecting Frenchman living outside of Paris, Dom asks for a scooter and an endless supply of gas, and though he gets his wish, what he really wants is the love of the fairy herself.
Thus begins a series of skillfully executed, increasingly irreverent bits which accompany Dom and the fairy as they try to reunite, and in the process cross paths with African immigrants (Vladimir Zorano, Wilson Goma) attempting to hop the ferry to England. This, along with the fairy’s internment in a psychiatric hospital, adds a darker bent to the otherwise jovial atmosphere, and its through such contradictions that Gordon and Abel manage to underline their comedy with an honest emotional calling.
Tati’s hand is evident in the exceptionally precise art direction and camerawork by regulars Nicholas Girault and Claire Childeric, which allows each joke to build itself through repetition and the addition of unexpected elements. The retro attitude is further apparent in the recurrence of jazz standard “What a Difference a Day Makes,” as well as the use of rear projection in a road chase that may shock some in its all-out recklessness.