I love Sylvain Chomet’s style. I am a great fan of his debut short film La vieille dame et les pigeons and the wonderful Les Triplettes de Belleville. I have seen L’illusioniste shortly after it was released in my country. Sadly I didn’t get to see it in a theater but I’m sure it would have been a beautiful time. I rewatched it again recently and I feel like only now the story is really sinking in. Not that I didn’t get it the first time, I was too focused on the story then, now I really got to appreciate it and notice some details I haven’t seen at the first view.
L’illusioniste is made after a script from French director Jacques Tati famous for his nearly silent comedies like Les Vacances de Mr. Hulot and Mon Oncle. He wanted to make the film in the 50’s but never got to. The story is dedicated to the eldest daughter he abandoned during WWII, not to Sophie Tatischeff as it is stated at the end of the film. That probably is the only thing that bothered me about this film. I would have preferred if Chomet had been more documented about the story behind L’illusioniste. I know there was an argument about the script and doing justice to the story. I don’t take this into account when reviewing L’illusioniste. I don’t care how Chomet got the rights to the script in any moral or immoral way, all I care about is that he made the best of the story and turned it into a sweet and elegant little film many people love, including myself.
L’illusioniste is a story set in the late 50’s, focusing on a old magician, who faces the dying of his art as his audience turns to new acts like rock bands. While on a job in a small Scottish town, he meets a young girl named Alice with who he develops a father-daughter relationship. Don’t overanalyze their relationship, it’s clearly presented as a father-daughter relationship. Don’t understand why people think it’s more than that. The old magician buys new shoes and a dress for the girl, not because she was a gold digger, but that she really believed he was a magician and that he could offer her everything. She lived in a small town all her life, she was naive and wasn’t very life experienced, if your know what I mean. He was certainly a lonely man and he enjoyed having someone around. While watching the film I understood the title, The Illusionist. It’s not about him being a magician, but about him protecting her from the real world, keeping her belief in magic alive. It’s what Tati wanted to do for the daughter he abandoned. It’s a very personal film.
The film also deals with the life of the artist. How the audience changes and how this affects the artist. It’s heartbreaking, really. It’s a cruel industry. It’s the sadder part of the film. Some performers manage to find a job based on their skills like the trapeze artists while others, like the ventriloquist, are completely lost.
I liked when the magician went to the small Scottish town where he met the girl. There, the people were simple, they enjoyed his act. A symbolic scene for these people is when the use a light bulb for the first time (at least that’s how I thought it was) and how amazed they are by such a common thing.
The dialogue is very limited. It features English, French and Gaelic (I guess that’s the incomprehensible language Alice speaks). It works much better this way. Actually, this being a Tati written script, the limited dialogue is understandable because all of his films don’t have much discourse in them. It would have been a huge disadvantage. It would have been cheesy and the film would have lost its charm.
It’s a mostly sad film, but there were some scenes were I laughed. The trapeze boys were funny, some characters like the female singer at the beginning, are portrayed spot on. Also the members of rock band loved by thousand of young women who would do anything for them, act effeminate backstage. I loved the scene in the theater when the magician stumbles upon a screening of Mon Oncle. When he enters the theater the character in the film looks straight at the him. I thought it was precisely made. A nice touch.
I loved the little details, which I have noticed on the rewatch like when Alice, after the makeover, she admires herself in a window shop at a mannequin dressed like her and another girl around her age who looks exactly like she did before also looks at the mannequin’s clothes like Alice used to do before the magician bought her the outfit.
The animation is just wonderful. I crave for traditional animation and this film gives me everything. It gives the city of Edinburgh a gloomy but beautiful image. It has such beautiful colors. It’s a gorgeous film. Love the caricature style of the characters.
The soundtrack is very French. Reminded me of the one from Amelie. It sets the mood perfectly. Music takes place of the dialogue here as it is in almost every scene.It captures a both melancholic and merry side.
L’illusioniste is a very sad film, at the end I almost teared up, some may find it too sorrowful. But it ends on a rather hopeful than sad note. I see it more as a cruel but realistic portrayal of an artist’s life. It’s also a very true and sweet portrayal of a father-daughter relationship. One of the most beautiful and emotional films I’ve seen in the past years. A truly remarkable film.