The Illusionist (2010)

Posted: February 23, 2011 in Movies

“The Illusionist” tells the tale of a hard-luck traveling magician, but the title could mean the director himself: Sylvain Chomet, the French animator and re-animator of lost eras, who brings Jacques Tati to wondrous and sparkling life.

This is a remarkable movie: lovely, slow-paced and almost silent, rich with pathos and deft comic gestures. Adapting an unproduced 1956 script of Tati’s, Chomet weaves the story of an old illusionist in an odd magenta suit who wanders from gig to gig with his rabbit, his top hat, his three-legged table and his air of imminent obsolescence. In Scotland, he acquires a poor young lady who tags along and persuades him to visit Edinburgh. There they remain, lodging with the acrobats and the ventriloquist and the inevitable sad clown, wending their way through the bustle and mist of that majestic, enchanting city.

What’s evident in the film is a deep yet delicate attachment between the illusionist and his young companion, a sense of the great mime’s atonement for old parental failings. The film is suffused with longing. It’s positively radiant with it, agleam with nostalgia for bygone days – the end times for music-hall performers, pushed off the stage by encroaching rock ‘n’ rollers – and unexpressed sentiments that linger for years.

Edinburgh has never looked more fairy-tale gorgeous. In “The Triplets of Belleville” (2003), Chomet and his studio used a teeming fictional metropolis as the backdrop for surrealist action. “The Illusionist” pays homage to the Scottish capital with dreamy, layered cityscapes that mizzle rain and charm: It’s a setting prebuilt for melancholy. The movie’s homage to Tati is just as bittersweet.

“The Illusionist” offers no subtitles for its French or Gaelic, but there’s no need for them. All the spoken bits are guttural in expression and obvious in intent. What Tati might have done with such a small plot is open to speculation, but Chomet fills it with the hope of youth and the dark romance of a man coming to terms with his own disappearance.

No computers, no CGI, no 3D. What you get is a beautiful movie, and judging by it’s huge critical acclaim – which it’s nomination for Best Animated Picture at the forthcoming Oscars dictates – it’s the type of movie one cannot afford to pass over. The fact that it has no subtitles for the French dialogue speaks wonders of how easily a message can be conveyed. You find yourself knowing the conversations without knowing the words – and that, my friends, is art.

IMBD: Link | Wiki: Link |Download (AVI): Link

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