Simon Magus And The Nine Lives Of Thomas Katz

Simon Magus And The Nine Lives Of Thomas Katz


Reviewed by: Keith Dudhnath

Simon Magus (Noah Taylor) is the village idiot and sometime magician in 19th century Silesia. Although Jewish himself, he resents the rabbi and the other Jews in the village. He seeks solace in the arms of Christianity, and in particular local merchant Maximillian Hase (Sean McGinley). Plans for a local railway pit Hase against thoughtful and honest Dovid Bendel (Stuart Townsend).

When reduced to just a paragraph, the characters in Simon Magus seem very one dimensional, but throughout the course of a whole film, they all have far more charm and depth than that. Hase rarely climbs above being pure evil, even more so than the devil himself (Ian Holm), but having an all-out baddie like this allows emphasis of the intricacies of the other characters.

The acting performances, without exception, are excellent. Particular praise must go to Embeth Davidtz, who doesn't have a large role, but still manages to fill it with lashings of heart and compassion.

The major criticism of Simon Magus is that it's a simple setup of good guy, bad guy, and Simon as a random element in the middle. Even with the depth of the characters, at times it feels as if it is merely coasting towards a conclusion. It's not so much that it's predictable, more that the audience is simply watching the situation play out, rather than being fully drawn into the story.

A similar criticism can be made of The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz. Tomas (Tom Fisher) crawls out of a sewer, hails a taxi, and then 'inhabits' the body of the taxi driver. Here too, it is a case of watching the premise play itself out, as Tomas Katz inhabits the body of person after person, gradually bringing about the end of the world.

In every way but one, Tomas Katz is an inferior film to Simon Magus. The acting is merely good, rather than excellent. Although the filming style is intentionally rough around the edges, it is still rough around the edges. It's all very "Wahey! Look at me: I'm surreal. Fish." The film has a nice premise, but it's all a bit pretentious really.

The one way in which Tomas Katz is superior to Simon Magus is the most important one: it's hugely enjoyable. It's very funny, it's very silly, it's very quirky. I loved it. As a series of slightly off-beat comic sketches it's great. The scene mourning the death of a Tamagotchi was particularly amusing.

Start picking at the threads of why Tomas Katz is enjoyable, and it will begin to unravel. It doesn't hold a candle to Steven Sodebergh's masterpiece, the similarly themed and styled Schizopolis. However, if you merely sit and watch The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz, you will enjoy it.

Reviewed on: 08 Jul 2007
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Two films by director Ben Hopkins.
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Director: Ben Hopkins

Writer: Ben Hopkins (Simon Magus); Thomas Browne, Ben Cheek, and Ben Hopkins (Tomas Katz)

Starring: Noah Taylor, Stuart Townsend, Sean McGinley, Rutger Hauer, Ian Holm, Embeth Davidtz. Tomas Katz: Tom Fisher, Ian McNeice

Year: 1999

Runtime: 200 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2000

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Simon Magus