Magical realism and slapstick seem like natural allies, so it's sort of surprising that hardly anybody has tried to combine them before. If you want to see what that marriage would look like, check out the French movie Fairy (La Fée), opening in some U.S. theaters today. Equal parts ravishing and obnoxious, Fairy manages to use both magic and physical comedy to deconstruct the real world.
Actually, I'm not sure where Fairy is opening, except that it's out today in San Francisco. Check your local listings.
In Fairy, Dom is a night clerk at a run-down hotel in some French seaside town, where he's barely holding onto his job despite being a total flake. And then one night, a woman named Fiona shows up, claiming to be a fairy, and offering to grant Dom three wishes. He can only think of two wishes off the top of his head: a motor scooter, and a lifetime supply of gas. She grants both, but he can't think of the third wish. And meanwhile, the two of them are falling in love. When Fiona disappears, Dom must embark on a wacky voyage to find her again.
There is a ton of gorgeous imagery in this film, and it's beautifully shot in general. It's also very, very nutty, and an unabashed callback to 1960s surrealistic comedy from films like What's New Pussycat. Every moment is taken up with just weird physical discomforts, or little funny predicaments. Like someone trying to eat a sandwich when the doorbell keeps ringing. Or whatever. There's a certain mime-y quality to the comedy, like the people in this movie are used to grapping with invisible ropes or whatever.
And it's very much squarely in the wheelhouse of magical realism, in a way that will delight people who love magical realism. We're never entirely sure whether Fiona is really a fairy, or just delusional — but it scarcely matters. She's nutty and a beautiful free spirit who runs around in her jammies until she can steal a nice dress, and does whatever she feels like, and her claim to be a fairy is sort of just a metaphor for being too impractical and puddle-wonderful for this dour world. There are numerous fantasy sequences, where we meet people who can fly or we dance on the bottom of the ocean, and the film flirts with straight-up surrealism and then pulls back.
This is definitely a movie for people who love zany French movies. (I used to be one of those people, but then I saw a few thousand zany French movies, and sort of got over them.) Everybody is making weird facial expressions all the time, when they're not falling downstairs or acting kind of nutty, and it'll either delight or annoy you. Call it the "stinky cheese" school of movie-making — people who like this sort of thing will really like this.
The main thing that's great about Fairy, though, is first of all the aforementioned mixture of magical realism and slapstick, as a way of talking about escaping from our horrible, oppressive, prosaic world into a land of fanciful weirdness. There's always something wonderful about a movie that celebrates oddballs, especially if it's an off-kilter love story like this one. And it's fascinating to realize just how much magic realism and physical comedy tread the same reality-warping, outsidery ground.