Fantastic Fest: Liza the Fox Fairy, by Chase Beck
Liza (Mónica Balsai) is a beleaguered nurse caring for the aging and bed-bound wife of a Japanese ambassador. On her thirtieth birthday, she asks for the day off. Absolutely certain that she will find her true love at the local fast-food burger joint, Liza is disappointed when it fails to happen. Upon returning home, she finds her patient dead. Liza The Fox Fairy is a quirky romantic comedy about a woman’s search for love. Her main obstacle, besides a lack of funds, is her best friend, the ghost of a Japanese pop star. While he is perfectly happy to console Liza by belting out his greatest hit, a catchy tune that will have you humming along, crooner Tomi Tani (David Sakurai) is intensely jealous of anyone that might divide his time with Liza.
This Hungarian film by director Károly Ujj Mészáros calls to mind Jean-Pierre Jeunet at his best. However, it has enough unique elements (a strong Japanese mythology influence) that it never feels wholly imitative. With its mixture of the adorable and strange it strikes a curiously enthralling tone. It is at times endearing, disgusting, and violent but never failed to keep me entertained. A good example of this is Liza’s residence, which, due to the many deaths occurring within becomes covered with overlapping police tape body outlines.
Actress Mónica Balsai is perfect as Liza, the plain girl who transitions into a ravishing beauty with men falling at her feet. The only problem for her is that, as they fall, they are usually either choking or bleeding profusely. Because there are so many people dying around her, Liza comes under police investigation. One exuberant investigator, Zoltán Zászlós (played by Szabolcs Bede Fazekas) even goes so far as to rent a room from her to further his investigations. Of course this makes him a prime target for murderous Tomi. Over the course of the film Zoltán acquires numerous injuries, each one tracked by a new bandage. The film has lots of blood and death but, due to its bright and cheerful tone, is never really scary.
Early on in the film, through manipulation, Tomi convinces Liza that she is in fact a fox fairy (Japanese: kitsunetsuki), cursed to kill any man who falls in love with her. As more and more people die around her, Liza becomes resigned to the fact that anyone she might become interested in will quickly die. Finding out how to prevent the people around her from dying and thus ending her loneliness Liza’s main concern. While some of the people in such a story are by nature disposable, many have eccentricities to keep them from being entirely forgetful fodder to further the story.
With its cute story, interesting characters, quirky tone and Japanese influence, Liza The Fox Fairy remains fun and enjoyable throughout and might just be my favorite film of Fantastic Fest. I was pleasantly surprised by this film that provided much more than I expected. I will have to wait and see. There are plenty more movies to go.