Dom (Dominique Abel) works the counter of a small hotel in a French seaside town. One day a woman named Fiona (Fiona Gordon) arrives at his hotel, proclaims herself to be a fairy and offers him three wishes. When Fiona spontaneously disappears that night, Dom sets out on a quest to find her again.
Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon’s Lost in Paris was a comedic highlight of this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival, and having never seen the duo’s work before I was keen to check out some of their earlier films. The Fairy was released in France back in 2011 and is another beautiful, whimsical slice of physical comedy.
There is a particular knack to physical comedy on film. It is not just a matter of physical dexterity and timing. It is knowing how to visually frame a joke on screen, and knowing what to show and what to imply. It is working out when something is funny because it comes out of the blue and when it is funny because the audience has been desperately hoping for it to occur. Buster Keaton remains widely acknowledged as the master of this form of comedy, with Jacques Tati likely a close second. It would be folly to rank Abel and Gordon alongside them, but I do not think it is too controversial to hold them up in a solid second tier. They have an immaculately performed partnership. This is the second of their films I have seen, and it is interesting to see how they rebalance their roles depending upon their screenplay. In Lost in Paris the film was very much based around Gordon’s hapless librarian protagonist, and she seems to deliver the most vivid and funny of the performances. Here that focus is reversed, with Abel very much taking centre stage and delivering a wonderfully idiosyncratic and sympathetic performance. The Fairy does share a lot of similarities with Lost in Paris too, particularly in terms of the wonderfully sweet romantic elements between the two leads.
A strong supporting cast gain highlights of their own, particularly Philippe Martz as an English tourist who hides his dog inside his luggage and co-director Bruno Remy as a jaw-droppingly short-sighted bartender. Perhaps the most memorable of all is Anais Lemarchand: a women’s football team are drinking in the bar when Fiona and Dom enter, a baby in tow and the French police on their tail. The baby is unsettled. The bar is raucous. Suddenly the bartender puts on a record, Lemarchand begins to sing and the entire film suddenly slams on the brakes for a few minutes of simple, non-comedic, hugely emotive singing. It’s a remarkable and deeply effective moment.
It is perhaps a little sad that when this film was released in 2011 all of the attention and critical acclaim was on another comedic ode to silent film comedy: Michel Hazanavicius’ Oscar-winning The Artist. The Fairy might be a less direct tribute to the silent comedies of cinema’s early years, but I think it does a much funnier and more consistently entertaining job.