Sylvain Chomet, the acclaimed director of the Oscar nominated The Triplets of Belleville is back with his second feature The Illusionist. In keeping with his previous effort this is another gloriously animated piece that harks back to the golden age of such Disney films as 101 Dalmations and The Aristocats.
The films plot is plucked straight from an unused Jacques Tati script. Set in the 1950’s the story follows Tatischeff (named after the famous French comedian/director) an aging magician on a journey to out run the emergence of career hindering rock bands and the rise of television. Whilst visiting a small Scottish Island for a performance his path crosses with a young girl called Alice with all her childish wonder still intact her amazement at his perceived magical abilities leads her to follow him to Edinburgh. A relationship, almost a kin to father and daughter begins to blossom but how long can Tatischeff afford to maintain this magical facade before having to teach Alice the heart breaking lesson we all must learn as we grow up, that there is no such thing as magic.
Whilst Chomet’s Tatischeff bears a remarkable likeness to Jacques Tait, the films story is a million miles away from the silent comedy of such films as Playtime and Traffic. In fact the reason this script was left unmade was due to Tati’s belief that it was too personal and not in keeping with the humorous image he had manufactured with great success.
Indeed The Illusionist is an incredibly moving story, that although full of comedic asides the great director would of been proud to call his own, is a film with a rich vein of emotion flowing through it.
A special mention must also be made toward Chomet’s wonderful handcrafted style. Whilst our cinemas are currently full of CGI animation and 3D features, Chomet is still a keen believer that 2D animation remains the only format that can truly capture the human element of a character. The film also works as something of a love letter to the great city of Edinburgh. Chomet moved his studios to the city after being blown over by the Cities magical feel whilst premiering his last piece at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Having lived in Edinburgh myself I can second this view and say with great pleasure that he has not only captured that special feeling the place has but enhanced it.
The Illusionist is not just one of the best animated features of recent times, but one of the greatest films I have had the pleasure to see.