Friday, March 18, 2011

The Illusionist (L'illusionniste)

Magic Man

Being one of the three finalists in the Best Animated Film category in this year's Oscars will already say something about its pedigree, but alas this happened to be the last hurrah for Toy Story, and an expected win which doesn't really do justice to those it deposed of, especially when they really have qualities to justify snagging that trophy. Still this Sylvain Chomet directed film adaptation off the original screenplay of the famed Jacques Tati is nothing to scoff at, with plenty of heart put into both its storytelling and art that makes this a must watch.

The Illusionist tells of the story of a French magician who travels around performing at various venues in Europe, not very popular but always being able to obtain a gig or two to keep himself going. A chance meeting with a Scottish pub owner meant travelling to Scotland to perform there, and during his stay, a meeting with a young woman will become quite the adventure of a lifetime for him, as they move in together, and seriously, I had thought it had a romantic kind of relationship brewing until it unravelled itself to be more paternal, after all he spends a lot of his money on gifts for her, even taking up secondary jobs to sustain the family income as gifts become more elaborate, and his magician gigs becoming less lucrative since venues and a wider demographics have a preference for boy band musicians.

Much has been said how this film was Jacques Tati's ode to one of his daughters, and the final scene in the film probably references this more directly. And given such a personal connection put into a story, Sylvain Chomet managed to translate the feelings and emotions successfully to the big screen, even more impressively done without lines of dialogue, opting to reach out more universally through the power of music and moving image, all beautifully drawn with rich details that will serve as a feast for the eyes. You'll be really awestruck at the film's animated recreation of 50s Europe, and the various characters that come to pepper the story both in terms of design and characterization.

Only a smattering of words make it, and even then you'll have to get by the various languages and accents used, with Jean-Claude Donda becoming the voice of the French titular character, and Eilidh Rankin voicing the Gaelic Alice whose spoken words in all frankness is difficult to understand. Still, don't let that detract you because the music is set to orchestrate the narrative flow, and the scenes all designed to be emotionally powerful, that you feel for this film more than you need to overtly listen attentive to the sparse words spoken.

There's a running subplot that I felt benefitted from the subtleness throughout the film, and that's got to do with dying trades that practitioners have to cope with, since their traditional trade is suffering from decreasing popularity, versus the tide of pop culture. There are the singing acrobats and especially heartfelt is that of a ventriloquist who struck up a friendship with Alice, and progressively the tinge of sadness permeates through to the last frame, in tandem with the theme of being neglectful of what we have when something new comes along, as in Alice's attention when a new beau enters her life.

Definitely recommended stuff, and do stay tune until the end of the credits for one final coda.

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