Films Worth RE-visiting: The Illusionist (L’illusionniste)

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March 7, 2013

The Illusionist (Lèillusionniste)
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
Original screenplay by Jacques Tati,
Adapted by Sylvain Chomet.
2010

Reviewed by Joshua Zapf

The Illusionist is beautiful for many reasons, but most of all because it is believable.

The story takes place during the 1950s. The protagonist, Tatischeff, is an illusionist and a master of his craft.  We follow him, and a handful of other entertainers, as they struggle to make ends meet. In desperation, Tatischeff travels to Scotland and, after a small performance in a local tavern, he settles into his room. A young maid becomes so perplexed by Tatischeff’s abilities that she is convinced he is magic. She follows the illusionist to escape the humdrum life of her village, a place that has seemingly just seen its first electric light. Tatischeff, awash in her admiration, shows fatherly affection for her. He attempts to give her everything her heart desires but cannot prevent the slow disenchantment that comes with time.

The film does not incorporate hard dialogue. You might suggest, if you had to explain it, that there are no spoken lines. That’s why I nearly overlooked this film; I figured the premise too lofty, the design too avant-garde for my liking. Nevertheless, The Illusionist is one of the finest films I have ever had the pleasure of watching. I predict that after just twelve minutes you will be enchanted.

The Illusionist is a cartoon of the highest quality, drawn to the grandest scale. Scenes sprawl like photographs. The music, originally pieced together by the director Chomet, guides you seamlessly through scenes. No spectacle is spared as background characters move with their own accord giving life to every scene–more life than most live action movies could ever hope to attain.

At times the movie is like rolling artwork. The trip from Kings Cross to Scotland is outstanding. You could review that segment a dozen times and continue to discover new and wonderful details (the advertisement on the bus, the gulls meandering near a cliff, the Border Collie managing his flock, the change of passengers, the name of the Scotsman’s boat.)

Chomet has done a masterful job. The music, the sentiment, the novel characters, the idiosyncratic movements of the lead are all threads woven into a touching storyline. The Illusionist is a resounding achievement–a film that that should not be missed, no matter how old or young you are.

 

Josh Zapf just committed himself to Co-op Studies in Writing at UVIC; he  was mesmerized by Star Wars and Indiana Jones as a kid. 

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