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The Illusionist - (Sylvain Chomet)

The Illusionist

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

FRENCH-born director Sylvain Chomet last dazzled us with his superb animated romp, Belleville Rendez-Vous way back in 2003. His return is no less impressive, if slightly more sombre.

Adapted from an unfilmed script by the late Jacques Tati, the film follows the exploits of old-school stage illusionist Tatischeff (Tati’s real surname) as he attempts to retain a place in the entertainment spotlight in the face of constantly changing times.

Forced out of Paris by lack of demand, Tatischeff heads to Scotland (via a brief sojourn in London) with his beloved – but naughty – white rabbit in tow, initially stopping at a remote pub in The Highlands.

It’s there that his magic act entrances Alice, a pretty young maid who believes his powers are real, and who stows away with him when Tatischeff heads to Edinburgh.

Over the course of their time in Scotland’s landmark city, Tatischeff serves as Alice’s father-figure, protecting her where possible and showering her with gifts… but as she blossoms into a beautiful young woman, and Tatischeff continues to struggle in his attempts to find work, the two slowly drift apart.

Chomet’s film is a thought-provoking, visually arresting and emotionally resonant piece of work that succeeds on many levels.

His reverential nods to Tati are spot on (especially in the use of humour), while the director stamps his own signature on proceedings to provide an often beautiful reminder of his previous work on Belleville (Tatischeff’s rabbit stands in for the dog in that movie).

Edinburgh is vividly recreated, and a tourist board’s dream come true, while the character’s themselves are just as vividly drawn – living their lives almost wordlessly and allowing actions and gestures to speak volumes.

Tatischeff is a flawed but fascinating old-timer, painfully aware that time is against him, yet seeing an opportunity to give his life new meaning through his paternal devotion to Alice. It’s a masterful exploration of a sad situation that gives rise to a tear-jerking denouement.

But Alice, too, is shown to transform from wide-eyed, naive youth to free-thinking woman of the world, and her journey offers the film its moments of optimism.

The Illusionist won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and its leisurely pace and melancholy finish may well fly in the face of what many might expect from an animated movie.

But it’s a thought-provoking, occasionally uplifting and ultimately moving piece of work from an artist who deserves to rate alongside those geniuses at Pixar as one of the finest animators working today.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 85mins
UK DVD Release: February 14, 2011