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Magic Kisa
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by Lybarger

"It might not be obvious, but there is magic here."
4 stars

'Magic Kisa' is a 30-minute French comedy-thriller thatís so clever that it takes a couple of viewings to appreciate what writer-director Mathieu Saliva has done.

An ex-convict named Vic (Christophe Laubion) decides to play an unexpected visit on his brother Gino (played by Laubion without a moustache). Both were involved in the crime that sent Vic to the slammer, but Gino ended up with his own tavern, a live-in girlfriend named Margot (Marie Vernalde) and a son.

When Vic tells Gino that he envies his older brotherís seemingly easy life, Gino offers to trade identities with him.

Vic accepts the offer and quickly discovers that he was better off in prison. As Vic should have probably guessed, Gino isnít as upright as he appears and has betrayed others the way heís betrayed Vic.

Gino owes a fortune to a couple of mob goons (both played by Dominique Bettenfeld, ďLa vie en roseĒ). These fellows remind deadbeats of their obligations by letting them know what sort of coffin theyíll provide if the money isnít forthcoming. They promise get one thatís just a few centimeters too small. This means the borrower may get dismembered to fit.

Thatís actually the nicest thing these guys do. And now that Vic is literally in Ginoís shoes, heís stuck with the large debt and a short deadline.

"Magic Kisa" starts off bleak and gets darker as it goes on, but Saliva and his crew keep the film from sneaking into nihilism by loading the film with a satanic humor. The twin mobsters read through a catalog of caskets as if they were shopping for cars. Saliva also has some intriguing plot twists that jolt viewers the way they frustrate Vic.

On a technical level, the film is astonishing because the filmmakers have figured out how to create dual characters for Laubion and Bettenfeld without drawing attention to the fact that each actor is playing two roles.

Casting performers in multiple roles is as old as cinema itself (Buster Keaton played an entire theater in 1921ís "The Play House"), but Saliva and the other filmmakers come up with ingenious ways to make Laubion and Bettenfeld interact with their cinematic doppelgangers as if it were happening in real time.

None of this would work if the actors werenít up to the challenge. Take a close look at Laubionís face during his domestic scenes with Vernalde, and youíll catch a look of bewilderment as Vic discovers how complicated Ginoís life really is.

With only 30 minutes, Salivaís pacing is appropriately taut and brisk. Nonetheless, thereís more wit and imagination in this offering than in a lot of features.

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originally posted: 09/10/09 21:36:02
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