In 2004, when this site was just starting up, I wrote that The Triplets of Belleville (Les Triplettes de Belleville), Sylvain Chomet’s previous feature, did little more than pass the time. Six years later and his new film has left me stunned.
Not to be confused with the 2006 Edward Norton film, The Illusionist is a feature based on an unproduced screenplay of Jacques Tati, and is a stunning animation. Just when you thought that Pixar couldn’t be topped, along comes this 2D wonder. Not only did this film have me in tears by its conclusion, I can’t think of it now without getting upset.
In the tradition of Tati, the film has very little dialogue. The plot involves a stage magician struggling to eke out a living in a time when people simply have no time for such frivolous entertainment. The illusionist regularly performs to only a handful of people, never getting any appreciation or much money for his good work. A chance meeting with a drunken Scot has the illusionist invited to Scotland to perform at the local pub, and it’s only here that he’s given a brief moment of respect.
This is a beautiful tale, and easily as good as Tati’s best work. The animation is spot on – the comic timing is immaculate and you could be forgiven for thinking that this hand-drawn character is the equal of the legendary Tati.
I was overtaken by a wave of nostalgia whilst watching this refreshingly old school animation. Sure, there are moments that betray the involvement of computers – the vehicles, some CGI smoke – but I didn’t realise how much I miss the elasticity of traditional 2D animation.
A large portion of the film takes part in Edinburgh and the city is lovingly represented. The cast features a variety of exaggerated stereotypes – the drunken Scot being just one – but it’s done across the board and with such love that it’s never offensive. Every frame is lovingly crafted and the film as a whole is stunning – it’s both an ode to the forgotten art of stage illusion and a requiem for Tati himself.
Just as the film threatens to begin to drag, it shifts gear, and as I said already, it certainly left its mark on me. If you get a chance, go out and see this wonderful piece of cinema. The Illusionist is a brilliant film and a welcome reprieve from the latest CGI animated sequel.Rating: