As with L’Iceberg and Rumba—the first two feature-length comedies by mime artists Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon and their collaborator Bruno Romy—The Fairy is whimsical to a fault, sacrificing character and plot for the sake of elaborate visual gags that are impressively constructed, but rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Gordon plays a shoeless waif who shows up at a hotel in the French port city of Le Havre and tells distracted desk clerk Abel that she’s a fairy who can grant him three wishes. Soon they’re sharing a romantic evening on the beach, after which she disappears, sending him on a quest to find her—which he eventually does, in a mental institution. Is Gordon magic? Is she crazy? And after Abel’s asked her for a scooter and for unlimited gas, what third wish could he possibly want? Simultaneously dreamy and weird, The Fairy only has a little to do with the real world, which bleeds in largely via a subplot about African immigrants trying to sneak across the English Channel. For the most part, it’s too dry and quirky to connect.
Still, those gags are something. This trio knows how to deploy a prop, whether it’s the oversized Eiffel Tower pen that Abel uses to register guests or the pile of meds that Gordon uses for currency (and munches on absent-mindedly) in a sanitarium poker game. Abel, Gordon, and Romy also share Jacques Tati’s knack for naturally subdividing the screen into sub-frames and then staging action in multiple places at once, which they do magnificently in two extended chase sequences: one involving shop-window displays, and another involving a baby lounging on a pillow on the back of a moving car. Also, it’s hard to dislike any movie that breaks for an undersea dance sequence, complete with a giant clam. It’s just too bad that Abel, Gordon, and Romy have yet to apply all their know-how to a movie with real pull, because in the ways that count, these three are some of the era’s best non-verbal comedians. It’s frustrating, because somewhere between The Artist and The Fairy lies the silent-era homage that’s truly worthy of its influences.