Simon Magus

Director: Ben Hopkins
Screenwriters: Ben Hopkins

Institute History

  • 2000 Sundance Film Festival


One doesn’t often see films with the tantalizing magical aura ofSimon Magus, but that’s because directors with the creativity and intelligence of Ben Hopkins don’t emerge too often. This incredibly rich and demanding debut by one of Britain’s truly promising young talents recreates “a tale from a vanished world.”

An almost-medieval Jewish village, set somewhere in central Europe during the nineteenth century, is facing a crisis of modernization. The Talmudic community is faltering, bypassed by the outside world, and even lacks the ten men necessary for a religious quorum. Simon, dirty, disheveled, and perhaps somewhat mad, is the object of most of the villagers’ taunts and derision. The newly constructed railway is coming, however, and the leading merchant, Hase, is ruthlessly determined to control the town’s future by assuming proprietorship of the train station. At the same time, Dovid, a young religious scholar, sees the railway as the salvation of a community on the edge of oblivion. And the aristocratic Squire, who holds the key to the future, disdains commerce and has real passion only for poetry and the transformative power of intellectual inquiry and art.

Add romance, the machinations of the devil, betrayal, and sectarian strife, and Hopkins has fashioned a wonderfully fantastic fable that blends love and enlightenment, social disharmony and the tormented soul of the forsaken. Displaying superb craft in handling a complex and ambitious narrative, Ben Hopkins announces his arrival as a filmmaker to be reckoned with, and Simon Magus is a film of impressive scope and imagination.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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