The Illusionist

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 April, 2011, 12:00am


The Illusionist
Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin (voices)
Director: Sylvain Chomet

Seven years after making his feature-film debut with The Triplets of Belleville, a sepia-tinged, animated ode to Paris, Edinburgh-based Sylvain Chomet has delivered - surprise! - a sepia-tinged animated ode to Edinburgh.

In a genre where stereoscopy prevails to the point of distraction, Chomet's unfettered belief in the 2-D ethos is commendable. And his film is no plodding fare, with his story - based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script from the 1950s - pressing all the right emotional buttons evoking the melancholy of an artist mourning the passing of his trade, a sentiment that probably echoes the exact aesthetic which drives The Illusionist itself.

Allegedly Tati's love letter to his daughter - controversy abounds about whether it's addressed to his eldest daughter Helga, whom he abandoned as a child along with her mother, or the younger Sophie from his second marriage - The Illusionist differs greatly from the comical style which made his Monsieur Hulot films such a success. While still revolving around a outsider observing the world from the sidelines, The Illusionist's loner wants in. At the centre of the film is Tatischeff (Tati's original surname), a Parisian magician who finds his kind of entertainment rendered increasingly obsolete in the 1950s by pop music and technology.

Travelling to a Scottish island to a one-off gig - and even then, his services are outshone by the newly arrived jukebox - Tatischeff leaves to find a local girl, Alice, tagging along. Arriving in Edinburgh, the magician tries to attend to the well-being of his companion, whom he treats like a daughter; but even then, his efforts are soon taken to task as advancing circumstances condemn his art and generosity as somehow anachronistic.

Plaintive and reflective, The Illusionist presents a return to a reliance on an emotional punch behind animated imagery - and the Paris and Edinburgh of yore look very engaging.

Such nostalgia drives the film, as Chomet could easily have been drawing parallels with Tatischeff's rabbit-pulling tricks with the subtlety of the two-dimensional moving image. Humour is accorded sparingly here to adapt to the general sadness of the narrative.

Tati purists might not be pleased with the sentimentalism, but The Illusionist is a moving ode to an art, a spirit and a world long gone.

Extras: behind-the-scene featurette, Q&A at the Edinburgh Film Festival, trailer.