The Illusionist [L'Illusionniste] Movie Review
In 1959 Paris, Tatischeff is an ageing magician in a world that's being taken over by floppy-haired musicians. After losing his latest gig, he heads for London, where he briefly works in a raucous pub then travels on to an isolated village in the Scottish Highlands. Eventually he settles in to do his show in a small theatre in Edinburgh. But a young country girl follows him into the city, and supporting himself is difficult enough without needing to watch out for her.
Chomet invests the film with heavy echoes of Tati's Mon Oncle, from the main character's physicality to the way he never quite fits in wherever he goes. The animation is packed with telling details that are utterly charming, from Tatischeff's feisty rabbit, who won't stay in his hat, to the leathery lounge singers he has to share the bill with. When the heartthrob band Billy Boy and the Britoons appears to steal his thunder, it's impossible not to recognise that grinding fact of life: we're all replaceable. And yes, one crowd is actually more impressed with an electric light than with Taticheff's effortlessly masterful performance.
And it's not only the gags that keep us watching. Chomet painstakingly recreates his settings on screen, giving them a sense of heightened realism that takes the breath away. The panoramas of Edinburgh are simply gorgeous, as are the astonishingly accurate details, down to the names and designs of real pubs. And Chomet's affection for Scotland (he has an animation studio there) is also clear in his hilarious renditions of sheep, cows and kilts.
Alongside the resonant story, the film is also a sharp satire of show business, looking at the soul-destroying aspect of selling yourself for fame, the tedious realities of marketing and the temporary nature of success. With constant visual jokes but almost no dialog, the beautiful hand-drawn animation vividly recreates illusions and plays with our perceptions, but even more importantly it finds real heart in its characters, creating a funny, warm story about true generosity of spirit. And there's even a set of acrobatic triplets on hand to make us smile with recognition.