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With: Noah Taylor, Stuart Townsend, Sean McGinley, Embeth Davidtz, Amanda Ryan, Rutger Hauer, Ian Holm, Terence Rigby, Toby Jones, Jim Dunk, Ursula Jones, Cyril Shaps, David de Keyser, Ken Dury, Tom Fisher
Written by: Ben Hopkins
Directed by: Ben Hopkins
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 101
Date: 01/06/2001
IMDB

Simon Magus (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Simon' Sez Stay Home

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sometimes I get the impression that people make movies just to make movies without having anything in particular to say. For example, I can't for the life of me make heads or tails out of the bizarre film Simon Magus, made two years ago and opening today at the Lumiere for a week's run.

The title character (Noah Taylor) is the village idiot, an outcast in his little Jewish town where business is bad.

Several different parties realize that building a train station at a certain spot could bring the town back to life. A townsman named Dovid (Stuart Townsend) and a gentile named Hase (Sean McGinley) separately approach the owner of the land, the squire (Rutger Hauer), who writes poetry.

We can figure out pretty quickly that the squire will sell the land to the buyer most interested in his poetry, and we know that the evil gentile will not bother with this.

Dovid wants to acquire the land to help out the woman he loves, a shopkeeper called Leah (Embeth Davidtz). And to do so, he employs another young and beautiful villager, Sarah (Amanda Ryan), who has been away studying in the big city, to help him study the poetry.

While all this transpires, Simon wanders around saying crazy things and talking to the devil (Ian Holm). Simon is a particularly bitter character, reeking of too much studio-applied nasty makeup and scruff and moth-eaten clothes.

Simon also turns informant, promising to tell the gentiles everything about the Jews' railroad plans in return for a Christian conversion and a few chicken dinners. The only reason anyone puts up with him is that the village needs 10 men to pray, and due to the dwindling population, he just might be needed soon.

Written and directed by Ben Hopkins, Simon Magus can't decide if it wants to be a fairy tale, a parable, or magical realism. It touches all three, but without any real commitment. It jumps back and forth recklessly, choosing whichever mood best suits its plot. It also unnecessarily re-awakens many stereotypes laid dormant for centuries, such as the idea that Jews like to eat babies. (On the other hand, the film does spend a little time explaining the history of the Passover celebration.)

Mostly, I couldn't figure out Simon's purpose in the film, and why it's named after him. In the end he performs a good deed and gets back on the side of right, but for the rest of the film he's a vile and despicable character. Taylor plays him like an acting class exercise, screaming and drooling and spitting. I didn't want to spend any more time with him than I had to.

But without Simon, we're left with a collection of stereotypes to play out the pre-arranged story. And thus I'm no closer to figuring out why this movie even exists.

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