Simon Magus

on March 09, 2001 by Chris Wiegand
   Before he made the infuriatingly self-indulgent “The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz,” Ben Hopkins wrote and directed this magical fable from a “vanished world.” An astonishingly mature and accomplished debut, the film features a spellbinding performance from Noah Taylor.

   “Simon Magus” focuses on life in a small town in central Europe during the 19th century. The town's unstable community, which is already hostilely divided between gentile and Jew, is further torn apart by the arrival of a railway. Dovid (Stuart Townsend) sees the railway as an opportunity to encourage trade and save the depleted Jewish congregation, while the wealthy Christian merchant Hase (Sean McGinley) is determined to secure control of the railway for himself. Each anxiously awaits approval for their respective plans from the town's artistic squire (Rutger Hauer). Meanwhile, Simon (Noah Taylor), a Jewish orphan, moves back and forth from synagogue to church in an attempt to reconcile his divided faith. His position is exploited by Hase, who bribes him to disclose the secret identity of the Jewish bidder.

   It is hard to believe that this compassionate and composed historical study came from the same stable as the techno conspiracy “Tomas Katz.” This is because “Simon Magus” is a piece of unashamedly traditional filmmaking, which relies upon solid plot and strong characterization as opposed to more experimental shock value. The Jewish and Christian congregations are depicted in great detail by Hopkins, who presents their daily habits and religious practices, as well as their fears--for example, Simon exploits the people's belief that he is a cursed child by charging them money to prevent him from bringing ill upon their houses. Their superstitious beliefs make the approaching modernization of the town all the more dramatic, as the “iron road” is seen as some sort of demon. This is an affecting and mystical story that is set in some atmospheric locations. Starring Noah Taylor, Stuart Townsend, Rutger Hauer and Ian Holm. Directed and written by Ben Hopkins. Produced by Robert Jones. An IDP release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 106 min

Tags: Noah Taylor, Stuart Townsend, Rutger Hauer, Ian Holm, Ben Hopkins, Robert Jones, IDP, Drama, Dovid, Hase, Simon

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