Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus

Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus

To say that drug use is central to the plot of “Crystal Fairy” is not only a gross understatement, but also entirely beside the point. The consumption of mind-altering substances — more specifically mescaline, in the form of a soup made from the San Pedro cactus — is what drives the film’s story, which follows a group of five young people in Chile on a mission to find and consume the psychoactive compound. But it’s the psychological, even spiritual, transformations that occur over the course of their experience that the movie, in its marvelously underhanded way, is really about.

Directed with a loose, haphazard style by Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva, using what he has called a 12-page outline rather than a detailed script, the film centers on an example of the proverbial ugly American, played by Michael Cera. Cera’s Jamie is a boorish, privileged slacker living in Chile, where he has persuaded his friend Champa (Juan Andres Silva) to chauffeur him on the road trip. Accompanying them are Champa’s brothers, Lel and Pilo (brothers JoséMiguel and Agustin Silva, who, like Juan Andres, are the director’s real-life siblings).

What catalyzes the action is not the mescaline they ultimately procure and take, while camping on a starkly beautiful deserted beach, but the arrival of the film’s title character, a young American hippie traveler (Gaby Hoffmann) whom Jamie meets at a party and unwittingly invites along, while in a booze-, pot- and coke-induced haze.

Crystal Fairy, as she calls herself, almost immediately disrupts Jamie’s monomaniacal focus on drugs, which comes across as an obvious defense mechanism against what appears to be an otherwise paralyzing fear. During a pre-drug bonding session, when they are all — at Crystal’s insistence — sharing their fears, Jamie will admit only to being frightened by the ocean and sharks, because they can be swimming under you without you knowing it.

It’s pretty clear that he might have some metaphorical sharks of his own swimming in his deepest subconscious. On the surface, he’s a Grade A jerk, and pretty mean to Crystal, whom he dubs “Crystal Hairy” for her magnificently unshaven body hair, displayed, unself-consciously, during the group’s first night together in a shared hotel room. While his traveling companions seem capable of enjoying life, each other and the trip itself, Jamie’s obsession with the cactus borders on desperation.

For her part, Crystal nicknames him “Pollo” (Spanish for chicken).

Once the group takes the mescaline, which the actors are said to have actually ingested, the real action begins. Rather than a drug-induced catharsis, however, the emotional breakthroughs that occur with Crystal and Jamie seem prompted by their shared human connection, and not a chemical one. In a profoundly moving scene, Crystal delivers an emotional confessional that seems like one she might have delivered even without being high. As for Jamie, his small nervous breakdown — manifested as an apology and a bout of unexplained tears — seems like the beginning of something huge. As Jamie, Cera seems to go deeper and darker than he has ever gone before. As Crystal, Hoffmann is wonderfully natural, as are the Silva brothers. But it’s Hoffman’s performance, in which she is often both literally and emotionally naked, that lingers.

And just like that, “Crystal Fairy” ends, leaving the audience wondering, for a second, what just happened. On one level, the answer is: not much. Part drug comedy, part psychological drama, the movie is slight, but only superficially so.

As the closing credits roll, we’re left not with a sense of a day at the beach, but of what might be swimming out there, in the dark of the abyss.

— Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post

Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus

Fri October 4, 2013, 7:00 & 9:00, Muenzinger Auditorium

Chile, 2013, English, Color, 98 mins, DP, 2.35:1, NR • official site



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Sun Mar 10, 2024

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Mon Apr 1, 2024

Hot Shots! Part Deux

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...