10 September 2010

Now You See Him... - THE ILLUSIONIST Review

Sylvain Chomet's latest animation, The Illusionist is all about a stage magician in the early 60s, whose act is being supplanted by rock stars in the hearts and minds of audiences. With no one interested as much, he decides to try and find employment in Scotland, heading for Edinburgh. Along the way he picks up a young girl who believes he really is a magician, granting him a new responsibility.

This one is the fulfilment of a long unproduced script by French writer and director Jacques Tati. It's believed Tati wrote the script with his estranged daughter in mind for the lead role, and his aspirations to reconcile set the tone for this one, in a way. The relationship between the illusionist and the girl is paramount to the film's central theme.

Because bigger than that, this is essentially a film about the end of innocence, and the death of illusion. It's wrapped up in charm and whimsy, but it's impossible to not feel the final emotional sucker punch. Watching it is like being enveloped in a warm hug for an hour, only to realise you've been stabbed in the heart by the hugger at some point or other.

The death of the music hall and old-timey entertainment is prominent, and more stirring than it really has any right to be- I'm only 20 years old, and have no nostalgia for that era because I wasn't alive. It's one of a number of ways Chomet appeals to younger audiences, also transcending the language barrier by keeping the dialogue to a minimum. The dynamics of the comedy are similar to Mr. Bean, or the first twenty minutes of WALL·E- there is inflection, but the storytelling is largely visual.

It all looks very nice. It's of the same unpolished and slightly scratchy aesthetic as that period where Disney animations looked like 101 Dalmatians or The Aristocats, but it's still very well drawn. More than I was at the time, I was saddened that I didn't get to see this at the Edinburgh Film Festival earlier in the year, because the way the city is realised in the film could only have been more atmospheric if I'd actually seen it there.

I was honestly surprised by how accessible The Illusionist is. Lots of families were in the screening I caught, and they all seemed to enjoy it immensely. Like the best animations, it has deeper connotations for the adult viewer but it's funny and whimsical enough that kids will adore it too.

The Illusionist is still playing in selected cinemas around the country, and will arrive on DVD in 2011.
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If you've seen The Illusionist, why not leave a comment on the film and/or my review? I'd have mentioned that this isn't to be confused with the Edward Norton film, but that film already isn't to be confused with The Prestige. It was fine, but both Nolan and Chomet are leagues beyond that film.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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