With one Best Picture Oscar nominee praising an early-cinema pioneer and another a bona fide silent film, it's quite the coincidence that a third throwback to those pretalkie days skips into theaters right before the Big Kodak Theatre Parade. The latest from the Belgium-based trio of Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy isn't actually speechless la The Artist, though its debt to that era of moviemaking---when graceful slapstick and a visual gag or three spoke volumes---is massive. And while Hugo's Georges Mlis doesn't drop by, one tinted sequence---involving a nerdy hotel clerk (Abel) and a daffy female fairy (Gordon) consummating a carnal underwater tango before a giant clamshell---could have been plucked out of the fantasist's flickers. At its best, this kooky farce reminds you of how much gifted performers can accomplish with pantomime and sheer presence.
At its worst...did your whimsy-ometer jump into the red over that fairy mention? Like their 2005 trifle, L'Iceberg, the directors' romantic confection overplays the tweeness to a diabetic degree, with moments of deft physical comedy (Romy's Tati-esque turn as a myopic bartender) sharing screen time with close-ups of babies and cutesy set pieces (that purposefully sloppy chase scene) at an uneven ratio. Deadpan clownishness is The Fairy's raison d'tre and its superior mode; when the lovey-doveyness turns cloying and the atrophied message-mongering creeps in, you wish the threesome knew when to keep their traps shut.
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