A seductive hybrid out of Christian lore, Yiddish folk tale and romantic fiction, writer/director Hopkins' first feature plays variations on the Brit historical costume drama. The action takes place late in the 19th century in an imagined Jewish stetl, in Austro-Hungarian Poland, suffering from economic and agricultural blight. Through this sombre Tim Burton-like world roams outcast Simon Magus (Taylor), a man reviled and feared for his presumed magical powers and for bringing a curse on the village; in fact he's an idiot savant desirous of salvation, but confused by the ministrations of the Devil (Holm). Tragically, his subsequent madcap religious vacillations make him seem a potential tool to anti-Semitic landowner Hasse (McGinley) in his struggle to acquire land promised to young Jew Dovid (Townsend), a favourite of the poetry-loving squire (Hauer). Compelling as a revivification of 'magical' storytelling, this admittedly modest movie impresses equally in its confidence of tone and sense of balance. It is never heavy and often very funny; the performances are uniformly well judged and the script sweetly dovetails its various strands.
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