Posted by Redgrrrl26 on:
If you go into Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist expecting another The Triplets of Belleville (his first feature). you may very well be disappointed by this slower and more melancholy film. If you go hoping to enjoy the hand-drawn animation, a story about the lengths to which we will go to avoid disappointing the ones we love, and to laugh at antics of a carnivorous, growling bunny,
then you'll probably dig it.
Not that this film will necessarily grab you from the get-go in a way that Up or Wall-E did for me. But if you are patient and can allow the film to reveal itself slowly, you will be rewarded with a world of unexpected little treats.
Among those treats are The Illusionist (aka Tatischeff), an aging slight-of-hand illusionist who plays to smaller venues and even smaller audiences with his nothing-up-my-sleeve tricks and his snarling, flesh-hungry white rabbit. (The rabbit is a bit of an escape artist himself, refusing to stay in his top-hat or his cage.) As The Illusionist struggles to line up gigs in late 50's Paris, he has to go further afield to keep getting work, finally winding up performing in a pub full of locals in a remote Scottish village.
It is here that he crosses paths with Alice, a teenager still very firmly on the child side of things. After witnessing his act and being the recipient of a few (platonic) small gifts seemingly "produced" out of thin air, she believes he truly can perform magic and follows him to Edinburgh. Unwilling to disillusion his one and only fan, Tatischeff finds himself working harder and harder to keep up the illusion for Alice that he is magic.
As Tatischeff and Alice settle into a quiet existence in an Edinburgh residential hotel with other faded vaudeville-era performers, they slowly veer off into their own separate orbits. Tatischeff working most of the time and Alice exploring the big city. (Side note: The suicidally depressed clown is hilarious as well as heart-breaking. Who knew happy clown music could be so sad?)
As Alice becomes aware of the sophisticated new world of the city, she slowly transforms from country bumpkin to chic young lady. But this doesn't come cheap, and Tatischeff must work his act as well as a variety of second jobs in order to magically keep producing new clothes for Alice "out of thin air."
Both Tatischeff and we are aware that time is passing him by. He and his fellow vaudeville performers are part of the past; getting pushed out by a youth culture of floppy-haired, Beatle-esque rock bands. It's only a matter of time before the scales fall from Alice's eyes and she sees Tatischeff as the ordinary man that he is.
And it is here, perhaps, where I had my only real quibble with the film. Although Tatischeff and Alice do develop a sweet father-daughter relationship, because they spend so much of their time in Edinburgh apart, the tension of watching Alice grow up--and knowing that Tatischeff can't maintain her illusions forever--didn't carry as much of an emotional wallop for me as it would if their relationship was more central to the story. But just when I was lamenting what could have been, WHAM!, this quiet, lovely film delivered a bittersweet emotional gut punch out of the blue for its climax.
Sucker. Just when you aren't looking the French will get you every time.
As I said, this is a slow movie that moves at its own pace and has its own rhythm. It doesn't attempt to pluck at the heartstrings in the way that Disney or Pixar films do. (And this is not a slam against either studio's product. They both turn out beautiful films. I cried like a blubbering idiot at Toy Story 3.) Instead, it relies almost completely on stunning images (there is virtually no dialogue), great use of color, and one grouchy bunny to tell its story.
If you love animation and if you have the patience to let the story unfold, you may find The Illusionist casts its spell on you too. Unfortunately today's screening was the last scheduled screening of the festival unless the film gets put into one of the TBD slots. However, all is not lost. The Illusionist is up for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film this year. The nomination and/or win could give the film a second life in theaters. (It already had a run in New York and Los Angeles last year.)