The Belgium-based writing-directing-acting team Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy are so underheralded they don’t even have an English-language Wikipedia page. That’s odd considering their schtick: With three slender features—L’Iceberg, Rumba and now The Fairy, all of which have scored quiet stateside distribution—they’ve joined the ranks of those trying to bring back silent comedy, arguably the saddest casualty of sound. Even the sharpest retreads tend to be bracketed in quotation marks, and admittedly the three don’t quite have the chops: As gag-writers and performers, they’re more amusing in theory than execution, skating by largely on novelty. Still, someone should be doing what they’re doing, and that—combined with a very West European pleasantness—is enough.
Dialogue is what sets The Fairy apart from its predecessors. Predictably, there’s little-to-none of it in their films, and while their latest is far from a chatterbox, the presence of actual conversation makes it feel sometimes closer to Finnish deadpan master Aki Kaurismaki (The Man Without a Past, Le Havre) than previous Abel-Gordon-Romy outings. Abel plays a middle-age hotel clerk/slacker who wants no more than to pass shifts eating ham-and-cheese sandwiches splattered in ketchup (ew!) and watching old musicals on a pint-sized television. He’s interrupted by a fairy played by Gordon, an Aussie who looks like Tilda Swinton crossed with Yahoo Serious. She’s a supernatural being albeit a down-to-earth and accessible one, and after granting two of Abel’s aggressively modest wishes—a scooter and an endless supply of gas to fuel it—the two fall in love.
There are a couple of musical numbers, the most charming of which takes place underwater, with our leads obscuring their naughty bits under seaweed while dancing plastic bags float by. And there is a series of farcial plot turns taken about as seriously as scenes where dogs and infants are put in cartoonish danger. No one is trying very hard, not even compared with L’Iceberg and Rumba, whose plotting featured quirky hairpin turns and rampant absurdism. In The Fairy, the tone is breezier, more laidback, the idea being to bring outlandish elements down to earth so they can relax with the rest of us, for however much time we all have left.