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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Illusionist

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  5_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The Illusionist

Anyone who thought traditional 2-D line animation was a lost art in this day of contemporary 3-D, CGI-filled offerings is in for a refreshing treat when viewing the lush visuals provided by The Illusionist.  Based on a story by the late, great Jacques Tati, the poignant, funny, sweet and sometimes somber tale follows Tatischeff, a magician who’s seen better days but perseveres despite the telltale signs of impending obsolescence.

The year is 1959, and rock n’ roll bands invade the scene, appealing to youthful audiences, rendering Tatischeff irrelevant.  His tiny gigs are performed increasingly at private gatherings, more for marginal amusement than astonishing spectacle.  He appears in small clubs and pubs across Europe, from his native Paris to London to small towns in Scotland (with a drunken, kilt-wearing admirer as his guide).

It is in one such town that he encounters a pub servant named Alice, a ragged little waif who utterly believes in his magic.  Seeing the awe in her eyes is irresistible to Tatischeff, who gives her a pair of new red shoes to replace her crumbling work boots.  Though they don’t speak the same language, they understand each other well enough to grasp the nuances of friendship and kindness.

A type of pantomime father-daughter relationship ensues as Alice follows Tatischeff to Edinburgh, sneaking onto his departing ship, confident that a ticket will magically appear in hands for her to accompany him.  It does.

The two take up residence in a ramshackle boarding house full of aging performers and a group of acrobats, the latter comprising the only performers it seems who have not cultivated the tired, melancholy pace of the “past-their-prime” occupants.  There, Alice tends to the cooking and cleaning while Tatischeff works at a small local theater.

As Alice’s requests for material items (a coat, high-heel shoes) become more extravagant, Tatischeff must find a way to provide them for his admirer, who thinks he can easily conjure them into existence.  Meanwhile, as Alice matures into a young lady, interests both new and age-old enter her consciousness.

The bittersweet film at only 80 minutes, manages to pack large steam trunks full of emotion and grace within its confines.  Director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) inserts a charming cameo appearance by Jacques Tati as one of his films play in a venue named The Cameo.  Tati himself wrote the original screenplay, adapted by the director.

Chomet’s appreciation of Tati (the comedic actor/director who surely must have been the inspiration for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean, and star of such films as Play Time, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle) is apparent as the illusionist Tatischeff is portrayed as a quietly bewildered practitioner of legerdemain and delight; we both enjoy and excuse his discomfort in a changing world that he is ill-equipped to accommodate.

With only a tiny bit of dialogue (Tatischeff and Alice are voiced by Jean-Claude Donda and Eilidh Rankin respectively) the principals express themselves through movement, gesture and glance.  The animation style has a 60’s feel to it and the muted colors blend to entice the viewer into their palette, beckoning them to don one of Alice’s new outfits along with her or explore the premises like Tatischeff’s curious, ornery rabbit.

Interplay between Tatischeff and Alice is tender and tentative, each benefitting from the other’s unique gifts, whether material or domestic.  Although The Illusionist features a man whose trade by nature allows him to deceive, it’s a very genuine Tatischeff that emerges in the story, completing a lifelong, magic-laced journey even as Alice embarks upon hers.

The whole adventure starts with a ticket that you'll agree is well worth the price of admission.

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