Synopsis by Gönül Dönmez-Colin
Director of award-winning short films Ben Hopkins embarked on this ambitious feature project with Robert Jones, the producer of The Usual Suspects. The screenplay is inspired by Central European folklore, spaghetti Westerns and industrial history. But the film, which runs like a fable, has its roots in folktales rather than history. It is the end of the 19th century and progress has arrived in Silesia. Travelers do not stop at the town anymore because the railway track is laid past the small settlement. Incomes have dropped, and so has the number of inhabitants. Noah Taylor plays Simon, a 'holy fool' of sorts, persecuted by fellow villagers who hold him responsible for everything from the failure of the crops to the milk going sour. Simon, who resembles a scarecrow, lives in a hut outside the village. He earns his living emptying the sewers, existing on dry bread and the occasional herring or pickle given by the wife of a rabbi. He knows how to entertain the village children with his magic tricks and devilish masks. At the same time, he feels he actually is pursued by the devil, which makes him do all kinds of evil things, only increasing his isolation. There is also the poor but good-looking Jew, Dovid, who keeps proposing to the beautiful widow Leah, who rejects him. Dovid devises a plan to build the village economy, and in the process gain her affection. He pays a visit to the eccentric poet esquire and agrees to a business deal which entails the esquire allowing a new railway station to be built on his property in return for Dovid reading his newly published anthology. Unfortunately, Hase Sean McGinley, a wealthy Christian merchant with more money and little respect for the Jewish villagers, is also interested in the railway project. Simon Magus is the story of a village caught between two worlds -- the new industrial order and the old, rural world of tradition and superstition. The camera work of Nic Knowland is outstanding, as is the confident performance by Noah Taylor, the teenage David Helfgott of Shine. The rest of the cast is quite international as well -- Irishman Stuart Townsend as Dovid, the merchant; South African-born Embeth Davidtz as Leah, the widow and Dutch star Rutger Hauer cast against type as the gentle poet squire. Various subplots, however, often carry the story in directions which distracts audience attention. Simon Magus competed at the 49th International Berlin Film Festival in 1999.
poet, progress, railroad, sewage-worker, tradition, village, widow/widower