“The Illusionist” is an animated film from 2010, directed by French animator Sylvain Chomet, based on a previously unfilmed script by famed French actor/director and mime, Jacques Tati.
It’s the story of an aging magician and sleight of hand expert who faces an increasingly tired act and dwindling audiences. Set in the late 50s, the world around him is in flux. Rock and Roll, television, movies, jukeboxes, fast cars… Times have begun to change, even if he has not, and the public has begun to turn its interests elsewhere.
He is soon out of work.
What he doesn’t know is that he’s about to encounter a fan who believes in him.
After losing his club bookings in France, the illusionist winds up in Scotland with a small gig. There, the young housekeeper at the inn he is staying at is particularly impressed with his craft (she actually believes he can really do magic) and strikes up a friendship with him. When she follows him out of town as he searches for his next booking, the two begin to look after each other.
It’s their relationship that is at the heart of the film. Her youth and energy is inspirational to him, while he is able to provide for her (in spite of his limited means) better than she is accustomed to. Later in the film, its suggested that the illusionist may be taking such good care of her due to his personal regret over his own past. There’s some very touching moments between the two, as he tries his best to take care of her. He buys her fancy clothes and shares a nice apartment with her, but can it last? He can barely sustain himself with his act.
The world of “The Illusionist” is populated by a menagerie of odd, colorful and often melancholy characters. Magicians, ventriloquists, acrobats, clowns and other stage performers, often sad, all seemingly poor. Certainly one of the central themes of the film is the artists’ plight. The characters here all seemingly give their souls to their craft, and get little in return from the public.
The movie is almost entirely dialogue free. Occasionally there will be a word or two here or there. But on the whole, the movie lets the story and characters express themselves without words. The characters emotions don’t need to be put into words for them, you feel them as the events around them unfold. The music, a piano score for the most part, gently underscores the moods of the film.
Gorgeously drawn, “The Illusionist” is a film that’s obviously been lovingly crafted. Every frame is richly detailed, a fantastic example of why we should never abandon hand drawn animation. It’s a showcase for the beauty of moving artwork.
“The Illusionist” is a bittersweet movie that’s surprisingly effective at connecting with the viewer emotionally. It reminds us of the value of art and artists, but mainly of the value of human connections – friendships and caring relationships. It’s believed that the script was inspired by Tati’s own regrets over neglecting his child and devoting himself to his art. That’s a feeling that undeniably comes through in the film.
It was nominated for Bast Animated Film in the year of its release (losing to Toy Story 3), and currently sits at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s highly recommended for fans of animated films, and