Silent films died 80 years ago, but a few silent comics managed to survive. Jacques Tati, one of my favorite filmmakers, was making films into the 1970s that might as well have been silent; the little dialogue they contain is irrelevant to the action.
The latest comics to break into silent film are Belgian auteurs Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (along with Bruno Romy). Abel and Gordon have the natural presence of dancers. With wispy, lanky bodies, they manage to occupy a lot of space, commanding attention with their expressive movements and gestures. Plain-looking faces exaggerate the comic power of their bodies. They look like they were made for each other.
Again, Dominique plays “Dom” and Fiona plays “Fiona.” Dom is a night clerk at a Hotel. Fiona walks in, barefoot; announces that she is a fairy; and grants him three wishes. (Not coincidentally, there is a hospital with a psychiatric ward close to the Hotel.)
Dom wishes for a 1) motor scooter, 2) a lifetime’s supply of gas, and 3) well, he’ll have to keep thinking about it.
There isn’t a plot so much as a series of set pieces. They spend time at the “Love is Blurred” café, trying not to let the blind proprietor spill their beer on them. They dance underwater. They flee the cops. And my favorite: Dom breaks Fiona out of the hospital using an oversized overcoat.
I first saw and liked the team of Abel and Gordon in their most recent film, Rumba. I said that the film was too funny the first time around, that there weren’t enough layers to let the film age well with repeated viewings. I think The Fairy is an improvement — there seems to be more going on in the background and in the set design, although I’d still say that Jacques Tati has them beat by far.
In any case, Abel and Gordon have won me over: I’m a fan. Their comic instincts are exquisitely honed and their films spotlight their talents. I don’t know if they have produced their masterpiece yet, but I’ll gladly watch whatever comes next.