* (1 star)
wd – Sebastian Silva
ph – Cristián Petit-Laurent
ad – Mark Grattan
ed – Diego Macho, Sebastián Silva, Sofía Subercaseaux
p – Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín
Cast: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva
People help each other without knowing it. If this weren’t the case, dinner party guests would revert to Bunuelian savagery before the entrée. This must be where the expression “being there” comes from. But if we truly knew what being there for someone really did for them, more people would take credit for it more often. As Lenny Bruce once said; “the only truly anonymous donor is the guy who knocks up your daughter.”
I sense that this is what Sebastian Silva was trying to cultivate with his new film Crystal Fairy, one of two films by him that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the other being Magic Magic. Both of them are set in his native Chile and star Michael Cera. Unfortunately, much like the glib, unconvincing Magic Magic, Crystal Fairy buckles under the weight of Mr Silva’s self-seriousness and never fully forms into the authentic comedy of young adults that it wants to be.
The film opens with an elegant credit sequence before we are introduced to Jamie (Cera). A quasi-nomad in Chile, Jamie is the plainly horrid American of this shiftless group of characters. Dishevelled and fizzy, his idea of fitting in with the locals is to complement them on their cocaine while at parties and to invite prostitutes to his apartment so he can cook for them. He doesn’t really seem to mind the language barrier, just as long as everyone in the room is as up as him.
Jamie resolves to drive north to pursue the San Pedro cactus, one of the world’s strongest and jubilant hallucinogens. He has planned this trip for a while (though not very well) with his three best friends, played by Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva and Augstin Silva (all of whom are brother to the director). Things go awry however when, while high, Jamie carelessly offers an idiotic, flower-child American girl who calls herself Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) to juncture along with them.
Crystal Fairy turns out to be quite a nuisance; she doesn’t seem to like clothes – at least not for her – and chides the others for the snacks they eat. Jamie even suggests ditching her at a hostel. But ultimately Crystal’s true aptitude reveals itself and the gang arrives at emotive divinity.
This is also, as expected, due to the natural becoming of their surroundings. Mr Silva’s pace is unhurried, as his characters inhale the Chilean landscapes. What he is trying to do is indulge in the suspension of the emotions that are being displayed. We are never quite sure of what these emotions are, but Mr Silva feels that this is matching not experimental. Both Mr Cera and Ms Hoffmann are quite brave here, taking on quite cloudy roles with reverence.
The entire film is stripped down. Mr Silva has shot in sequence with his actors having to either improvise most of the dialogue or feed it to them just before a take. This quixotic, meandering gabble and the film’s themes of the emotionality of life are not in balance with one another. Many have found the film’s end to be a very moving, when in reality it is merely the film’s only direct moment. Because of this, Crystal Fairy never breeds from its first scene. This is fine for some movies, but not for this one; not for one that feels this substantial.
Crystal Fairy was made on the fly while Mr Silva and Mr Cera were waiting for financing for Magic Magic to come together, and on that level, it is an accomplished work. The Maid, Mr Silva’s 2009 drama about a Chilean maid trying to hold her position after 23 years, remains his best, most complete work. And one feels that he has another film on that level waiting to emerge from him. Crystal Fairy falls just a tad short.