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The Illusionist (“L’illusionniste”)



lillReviewer: Jack Yarwood

Director: Sylvain Chomet

Stars: (Voices of) Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin, Duncan MacNeil

Released: 20th August 2010

Few films have captured a city in quite the same way as Sylvain Chomet’s spectacular animation ‘The Illusionist’. The film portrays Edinburgh like no other feature before it, acting as a perfect antidote to the pessimism of Danny Boyle’s cult classic ‘Trainspotting’.

Taking place in the 1950s, the plot revolves around the friendship between an aging illusionist, known by his stage name “Tatisicheff”, and a young Scottish girl from the Inner Hebrides named Alice.

In the film the central character of the illusionist is faced with a growing dilemma, as young people are beginning to favour rock n’ roll bands over illusions and other variety acts. In order to continue making a living he has to relocate again and again from city to city to find bookings. In the process of doing this, he arrives on the remote Scottish island of Iona to perform his act as they discover electricity.

It is here that he meets Alice. She is astounded by Tatischeff’s tricks; so much so that she eventually follows him on a boat to the Scottish capital believing him to possess real supernatural abilities.

Director Sylvain Chomet developed the film from an unfinished script by the French comedian and filmmaker, Jacques Tati. It is understood he originally wrote the piece as an apology to his estranged daughter Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel.

It’s not hard to understand why many have come to believe this. The relationship between the illusionist and Alice is strangely poignant, mirroring that between a child and her father.

The feature is also populated by a number of other colourful and creative characters besides the two central protagonists. These characters have their own unique personalities within the film. Highlights include: a depressed clown, a ventriloquist, a family of gymnasts, and a drunken boatman who loves to dance.

They provide much of the laughter through their antics in the film, but also have their own secondary stories that progress in the background with equal heartbreak and purpose to the main narrative.

Another one of the film’s strength that is worth mentioning is its magnificent soundtrack, composed by Chomet. Throughout the film it creates a marvellous backdrop to the character’s journey. The score combines traditional instruments, such as bagpipes with strings, to create a series of sounds that truly represent the places that the characters inhabit.

No doubt ‘The Illusionist’ will continue to captivate audiences for years to come. It is a rare piece of animation that elevates the medium alongside live-action in terms of storytelling and emotional depth. If you have not watched it before, I highly recommend you do not miss out on this masterful piece of animation.

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