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The Magnet Man (De Magneet Man)

Belgian fantasy drama about a literal magnetic man is doused in charm and nostalgia, while also paying an ode to the wacky performance acts of yore - from the Official Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


This movie does exactly what it says on the tin, while also taking “physical attraction” to a whole new level. Middle-aged Lucien (played by circus man Danny Ronaldo) is a man with magnetic powers living with his family somewhere in rural Flanders. His body is a powerful metal magnet: it attracts spoons, knives, scissors and small objects of all sorts. Larger metallic objects will come running (or even flying) towards him, with potentially deadly consequences. His supernatural power comes in handy at times, but it can also be a real pain (a hanging censer repeatedly attaches to his leg and to his back during his own mother’s funeral, in the film’s first moment of comic relief).

This visually ravishing drama starts out in black and white. The vibrant colours appear after Lucien is accidentally dragged away from his family by a passing train that happened to interfere with his magnetic field. His cherished violin remains firmly attached to his hand throughout his journey. He ends up in Antwerp with a motley crew of very peculiar artists: a weeping mime, an “Egyptian” fakir from Western Flanders, a Midas, opera singers and a beautiful dancer called Gervaise Malfait (Isolda Dychauk). The vaudeville is managed by Gervaise’s father Cesar (Karel Creemers), and aptly named “Theatre Malfait” (a French double entendre referring to the family’s surname and also meaning “poorly stage”). The acts are very charming: the mime performs with a skeleton attached to his back, the singers deliver an endearing choir in unison, and Gervaise and Lucien dance tango together, making good use of his supernatural skills.

There are various moments of comedy relief, from the pesky censer and hijacking train to sinister “flying” hangers and a very sensitive fakir. There is a touch of deadpan, which makes the most slapstick scenes vaguely resemble Rowan Atkinson’s equally endearing Mr Bean (minus the canned laughter). But those a just brief moments. Overall, this is a much warmer movie about an outcast fortuitously finding his place amongst other exotic creatures, and the old-fashioned circus acts to which they are devoted.

Nostalgia and puerility prevail throughout The Magnet Man, a dirtylicious fantasy movie made for adults. DoP David Williamson deserves credit for crafting a heartwarming and dreamy world inhabited by peculiar creatures with an aura of their own. The urban depiction of Antwerp is genuinely arresting. The transition from black and white to colour is very smooth. The monochromatic colour palette conveys a sense of antiquity and detachment, while the polychrome expresses joy and liberation. The big twist takes place in the final third of this 90-minute film. The “rules of attraction” abruptly change as tragedy befalls the woman with whom our magnetic lead is infatuated.

The Magnet Man just premiered at the Official Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. The director Gust Van den Berghe won the Best Film Award at the same Festival in 2014, The movie shares the language, the (partially) black-and-white photography, the tone, the touch of deadpan and even an actor (Jan Bijvoet) with the equally fantastic Natasha’s Dance (directed by Jos Stelling, in the neighbouring Netherlands), also in this year’s Official Competition.

By Victor Fraga - 15-11-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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