The Illusionist

Discussions of new films, books, television shows, and media indirectly related to magic and magicians. For example, there may be a book on mnemonics or theatrical technique we should know or at least know about.

Postby Oli Foster » 02/15/11 09:29 AM

I've just watched Sylvain Chomet's animated film, The Illusionist, not to be confused with the recent Neil Burger film of the same name.

Chomet has animated an unproduced Jacques Tati script, with a central character based on Tati's performances as Monsieur Hulot. I'm not a Tati conoisseur so I can't comment on whether this was a successful adaptation but, as a film in itself, I thought it was rather good.

The 'Tatiesque' protagonist is an old French Musichall magician travelling around Europe with a modest cabaret act in 1959. As the work dries up in the new rock and roll era, he's forced to take his act to evermore obscure venues and look for other work.

In a remote Scottish pub, he meets a young maid called Alice, who believes he's a real magician. Her admiration is cemented when he buys her a pair of shoes and they end up as unlikely travelling companions to an unsuccessful engagement at an Edinburgh Music Hall. There, they share a hotel with other showbusiness eccentrics, including an alcoholic ventriloquist and a suicidal clown (perhaps earning the film a 'PG' rating).

Preoccupied with surviving in an emergently modern world, the two become increasingly estranged until, ultimately, Alice has outgrown the magician and the seeimngly naieve era he represents. It's this father-daughter type relationship that glues the film together and the inevitable 'coming of age' appears to be a general metaphor; spilling over into the death of the music-hall, the magician, and ultimately innocence.

Weighty themes for a seemingly innocent animation and, I feel, very well done, particularly considering the lack of dialogue. The character animation is lovingly rendered with an individual animator assigned to each character. This really shows, as the unspoken dialogue engages a deeper involvement with both the characters and their beautifully-realised settings.

I couldn't help feeling faintly depressed throughout, but this is probably because I'm more 'musichall' than 'rock n' roll'. You'll certainly recognise the world the magician inhabits and, like all good art, your own circumstances will infer a positive or negative response. You'll like this, not alot, but you'll like it...

Oli Foster
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Joined: 09/29/10 08:40 AM

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