Have a seat. I’d like to talk about a very special film to me. The film is Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, the director’s follow-up to the beloved 2003 The Triplets of Belleville. His previous film felt a bit stiff, a bit forced, and a little over-the-top in the aesthetic department. Alternatively, The Illusionist is stripped down to its bare essentials, providing a story about a professional magician who is becoming down and out due to the oncoming depletion of interest towards talented traveling performers. The film chronicles the increasing decline of these folk with a reflection of the performer in the character of a young teenage girl who joins the performer after he shows her kindness through his magic. They have plenty of fun, episode misadventures, sometimes with the Illusionist’s snappy pet rabbit. He struggles to buy her new things and support their unlikely familial relationship with a late night job that ends simultaneously comedic and sad. However, the years go by, the pair becomes more and more separated. He can’t provide for her nor can he get a venue for his act, thus he feels shame in his interactions with her.
The film has a certain melancholy perspective to life – it’s ultimately a coming of age tale for the Illusionist and the girl, who, in turn, play father and daughter to each other. The aesthetic approach to the film is neat and beautiful. Every locale is gorgeous and remarkably period. The ensemble that surrounds the main characters are lusciously absurd in the way that they are designed. Every character is visceral in their behavior in how they look. The animation harks back to the wondrously absurd animated works of Salvador Dali. The two mains are relatively simple in reflection to the other characters that inhabit this film world and yet, they are more expressive than any other character that appears onscreen. There’s a dry wit to how the Illusionist works, while there’s a preciousness in the looks that the girl gives.
The film’s ending is bleak, yet hopeful and reflective. The two are separated and the thing that united them – squashed. However, looking back, it’s the man, the magician who has lost himself in reflecting how his magician life fell apart. For a magician, the nature of a magic trick is never to be over analyzed because the trick isn’t for the one performing, but rather the audience. Yet The titular character begins to believe that his magic is outdated as the world turns more towards pop stars and movies than live talented entertainment. The Illusionist is a tragedy, a beautiful tragedy about the life and death of relationship and what makes a relationship. Yet even through the ordeal that the girl goes through in losing her hero, a part of me still wants to believe that she believes in him. Chomet ends the film quite abruptly, but it’s completely natural. We see the two characters leaving each other without ever saying a proper goodbye. We say goodbye to the city where their familial relationship began. As easily as we were whisked into the gorgeously colorful European world, we are pulled out. 80 minutes is short for a film and yet this film says more about life than most films did this year with longer durations. Simply put, The Illusionist is a masterpiece. Go see it as soon as you can.
For Your Consideration:
- Best Picture
- Best Director – Sylvain Chomet
- Best Screenplay – Sylvain Chomet and Jacques Tati
- Best Art Direction
- Best Animated Film