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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Illusionist

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5_Chicks_Small  Judy Thorburn

Las Vegas Round The Clock -
Women's Film Critic Circle -
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The Illusionist


The Illusionist

Not to be confused with the 2006 live action drama of the same name starring Edward Norton, 2010's animated 'The Illusionist', is a totally different, yet very satisfying experience. Directed by Syvain Chonet and based on an unproduced 1956 script by the late French filmmaker Jacque Tati, the film is an 80 minute gem rightly deserving a 2010 Academy Award nomination in the category of animated feature.

Whether it will win the golden Oscar remains to be seen since it is up against such critically praised, audience pleasing competition as Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon whose eye dazzling 3D visual animations were all computer generated by artistic wizards. The Illusionist, on the other hand is delivered in what is best described as old school 2D style, meaning lovingly hand drawn. Exquisitely crafted, the use of subtle color and cinematic styling brings a sense of realism while the very stylized characters, each infused with their unique look and feel, convey true and beautiful artistic expression.

The Illusionist (the title character is drawn to resemble Tati and the story is reported to be semi biographical) opens up in 1959 Paris and follows the life of an aging stage magician named Tatischef (the late filmmaking icon, Tati's birth name) whose theatre draw is dwindling as the emergence of rock groups are becoming headline acts attracting full houses of screaming fans.

Relegated to traveling across Europe by bus, train or ship with just a few pieces of luggage, his pet rabbit, and a few other props for anywhere he can find work including pubs, weddings, and parties, Tatischef (voiced by Eilidh Rankin) winds up at a seaside village pub in Scotland. There he attracts the attention of Alice (voiced by Duncan MacNeil) a impoverished young chambermaid who is astonished by his slight of hand magic tricks. In turn, the kind gentleman shows her some attention by replacing her torn and worn out shoes with a newly bought pair. When it is time for Tatischef to move on, Alice follows after him, stowing away on a boat to Edinburgh where the unlikely pair reconnect and form a platonic relationship based on the mutual need to be cared for. Upon arrival in the city, Tatischef and Alice take up residency in a hotel where he assumes the role of a father figure, struggling to make a living working sideline jobs such as a garage mechanic and an occasional gig in his chosen profession, while she cleans and cooks for him  blossoming into womanhood and self discovery.

The Illusionist is a gentle, bittersweet story that draws you in with the attention to detail. There is little dialogue, mostly garbled or gibberish chatter of French and English, among the background sounds. The story is conveyed through expressions and mannerisms and simple nuances that make an impact. A reflection in a mirror, clumsy, awkward first steps in high heels, and a near misstep off a street curb are just a few of the small but beautifully crafted details that add realistic elements.

Inhabitants at the hotel include a trio of energetic acrobats, a down on his luck ventriloquist, and a depressed, lonely clown which also figure into the storyline of a dying breed of performers and their sense of longing to fit in, be needed, and loved.

Not a lighthearted animated tale for children, the film does have some comical moments, but in general is for adult audiences as it includes scenes of a street alley mugging, an attempted suicide and alcoholism.

With the onslaught of CGI blockbusters, there is still something to say about the dying art of hand drawn animation. It is alive and well and can be seen in 'The Illusionist', a rare and magical piece of cinema.

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