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    Rumba – Mime Comedy Romp

    By Ron Holloway | July 11, 2008

    After sitting through some pretty heavy entries in the official program during the first few days of the Cannes festival, the chance to enjoy some side-splitting belly laughs during the opening night presentation of Rumba (Belgium/France, 2008)) in the International Week of the Critics was welcomed, to say the least. Directed by a veteran Belgian mime trio – Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy – Rumba is old-fashioned silent-film comedy reworked into a modern-day fairy tale.

    A tickler sure to please on the family circuit. More Langdon and Lloyd than Chaplin and Keaton, the on-camera duo of Dominique (Dom) Abel and Fiona Gordon deftly pepper their Latino dance routines with comic deadpan mime and agile body maneuvers. Some visual gags also recall the finesse of Jacques Tati and Mr. Bean. Correction: why not just say that Rumba introduces Abel, Gordon & Romy, a performing trio for the past 15 years, in their first hit movie.

    Better known for their touring burlesque-and-visual shows, the trio took their first steps in filmmaking with three shorts – Merci Cupidon (1994), Rosita (1997), and Walking on the Wild Side (2000) – before trying their luck at a full-length feature film with The Iceberg (2004). Although The Iceberg didn’t click with the public, it did help to iron out the mistakes and point the direction towards silent film comedy as their natural means of expression. Surely, more of their polished movie antics is now in the offing.

    Set in a rural Belgian community, Rumba opens with schoolteachers Dom and Fiona rehearsing for weeks to win a Latino dance contest. Fiona, of course, teaches English at the school to youngsters who love to repeat her quirky lines about a dog eating his favorite meal of rice pudding. When the dance contest rolls around, another trophy is won to add to their shelf. Their joy is short-lived, however, because on their way home they crash their car to avoid hitting a would-be suicide. The upshot? Fiona loses a leg, and Dom his memory. Their dancing days are over, although their routines are rendered in full in flashback sequences.

    The fun shifts into high gear when Fiona returns to her classroom on a crutch to teach smiling young faces who are happy to have her back. But when she tries to balance her briefcase with the swing of the crutch, she ends up tripping all over herself – and finally falling out of an open window. The scene is hilarious! Meanwhile, confined to the house, the absent-minded Dom tries his hand at a baking chore. It gets him nowhere when he can’t remember how many eggs or pinches of salt he last threw into the bowl. When school colleagues decide to chip in for a wooden leg for Fiona, it seems like the perfect solution. But while enjoying a barbecue over an open fire in the backyard, the wooden leg catches fire. Fumbling to help, Dom manages to burn the house down. As for how this all ends, better wait until Rumba comes to your neighborhood bijou.

    – Ron Holloway

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