Under the Radar?: “The Illusionist”

“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



28 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “The Illusionist”

    • It was really good, wasn’t it Dressup? I enjoyed it very much, too.

      That’s neat how you refer to the real magic/magic reality almost palindrome style! 😀

      “Free on YouTube” oughta do it, but if anyone’s looking for other ways, I caught it on Starz on demand. Should be there for a few more weeks!

    • Its solid S, I know you have good taste in flicks, you’ll definitely dig it.

      Animation as Art. It really is. Kind of a thoughtfully paced movie, definitely not kiddie fare, but gorgeous to watch and very thought provoking.

      If you do check it out, let me know what you thought! You know that’s the gas we run on here!! 🙂

  1. This is really quite an incredibly lovely movie, sad and emotional and strangely uplifting in its own way; the animation is gorgeous, vibrant, and alive, and for me that made all of the substance really resonate that much stronger. Great way to send off one’s career, I think, and it definitely has gotten me to go back to check out Tati’s other works. (M. Hulot’s Holdiay, for example.)

    • Glad you’ve seen it Andy. Also glad you concur. It is strangely uplifting for as melancholy a movie as it is… but just beautiful throughout. I mean, the animation was incredible here, no? I was just impressed by every scene.

      I know for me its going to send me to check out some of Chomet’s other stuff… definitely.

  2. I haven’t seen this movie yet. I’ll add it to my ever growing list of movies to watch. Thanks for opening my eyes to yet another great movie. Have a great weekend. (sorry, no jokes for today…)

  3. Absolutely loved that movie! It wound up on my Netflix because it was an Oscar nominee. I wasn’t really sure what to expect other than it was animated & foreign. At first I was confused because there was no dialogue…then I was drawn in, enjoying the story unfolding, the small details which people usually catch in dialogue were perfectly portrayed in hand drawn images. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for an Oscar!

    • Kim! Good to see you.

      You know? I didn’t even realize at first there was no dialogue. Lol. He has no one to talk to at first… Then after awhile I was like wait, does anyone talk in this movie?

      Still… such a great movie, the animation was awesome. So cool to watch!

      Glad you’ve seen this and you liked it too Kim!

  4. Haven’t seen it yet but I’ve heard great things about it! Not quite sure what happened to it, it’s been in my Netflix queue forever ahah 😀

  5. I tried to watch this while I was off work last week and I just couldn’t get into it. I loved the animation, but I have a feeling I just wasn’t in the mood for it. Will try harder next time!

  6. Under the radar? Definitely. I have been meaning to see this one for a while now but somehow it keeps eluding me. Thanks for the reminder, Fogs!

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