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The Illusionist

Liza Dezfouli

MADMAN: Now available on DVD, this poignant and charming animated film is based on a previously unproduced screenplay by French icon, Jacques Tati.
The Illusionist
Directed by French comic writer and animator Sylvain Chomet, The Illusionist is based on a previously unproduced screenplay by legendary comic actor and filmmaker, Jacques Tati.

Chomet is best known in the English-speaking world for his film The Triplets of Belleville, nominated for two Oscars in 2004 for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song. The Illusionist, similarly, received a nomination for Best Animated Film in 2011.

The story is a small and poignant one, and tells of a friendship between an aging French magician and a young Scottish woman in 1959, on the cusp of the rock and roll revolution.

Sadly for the film’s protagonist, his career is declining to the point where he is playing to empty houses in remote areas. Accompanied by a willful white rabbit, the magician travels around the UK looking for audiences. He is an old fashioned conjuror with his cards and carnations but the world is tiring of vaudeville acts and is starting to prefer bands like the brattish Billy Boy and the Britoons.

Soon the old magician finds himself in a remote fishing village on a far flung Scottish isle. Here, in the local hotel, he meets young Alice, poverty stricken and alert for a way to escape her life. Although they don’t speak each other’s language their friendship is cemented when he buys her a pair of new red shoes. When the magician leaves the island she takes a punt on a new life and finds a way to attach herself to him. The sweetness and innocence of their relationship is detailed with a loving touch to ordinary details; her kindness and his desire to make simply make her happy are beautifully portrayed with an expressive grace.

There are some beautiful references to 1950’s style cinematography throughout the film, for instance, the whirling clock hands indicating the passing of hours. The film is exquisitely drawn, with a lovely watercolour effect to the images, which helps create a beautifully nostalgic look to the film. The settings are equally delicious, with wonderfully lit depictions of the wilds of Scotland and the now-vanished Edinburgh of the late 50s. Equally as adorable as the artwork is the actual animation. The movements of the characters, including a languid chanteuse, a drunken Scot and the crotchety rabbit, have a hilarity of their own, and are a joy to watch.

Special features on the DVD release include a short ‘Behind the Scenes’ documentary, a portrait gallery, the theatrical trailer, and Sylvain Chomet discussing Jacques Tati from the documentary, The Magnificent Tati.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Illusionist
A film by Sylvain Chomet
Based on a script by Jacques Tati
Available to rent or buy on DVD and Blu-ray through Madman Entertainment
Rated PG

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Liza Dezfouli has been reviewing film, live performance, books and occasionally music for over a decade. She writes a blog under her own name and another, somewhat less-measured one called WhenMrWrongfeelsSoRight. She creates work for the stage herself every now and then and can occasionally be seen in shows or in short films. For more: