The Magician’s Alms

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 1, 2015

The match/trick shots are by the book. The transportation of those tricks into real locations is not by the book at all. This magician is coming out of a real café. Its proprietor, and his helper, look just a little self-conscious. That’s a tiny bit of dramatic uncertainty, but it’s more than made up for by its documentary authenticity and, even more, delicate humanity. These were real people! And they come off wonderfully. The magician’s kind service to that beggar is a really interesting example of a standard Arabian Nights or Hollywood fantasy scenario. Bounty! It’s without roots or reason, really, and it certainly isn’t replicatable in reality. (Legislation! Systemic transformations!) But it’s sweet, and it’s kindly. It’s also a bit like the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” isn’t it? You think of it as pop narrative, and so you might miss the really strikingly selfless, other-directed nature of it.

More documentary value: the magician conjures up a servant boy; who whacks the top off of that wine bottle and gets pouring. So that’s one of the ways they used to do it! The bounty continues. The cigar is a nice touch. There’s our proper scruples about health and dietary regimes, and then there’s giving the poor guy something he might enjoy. After that, he goes on to make that poor guy a gentleman. Could this be his actual identity, class, etc.? Interesting.

At the end the former beggar goes on and refuses an appeal from another mendicant. The magician then turns him back.  If that feels a bit presumptuous and preachy, well it’s also an adaptation of Christ’s parable of the two debtors. Gag comedy, course comique, social satire, cinematic sermon. And all served up quite capably, even quite superbly. Guy has been making films for a decade, after all. But boy has she ever become her own man!