The Illusionist

Nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Animated Film category, The Illusionist tells the story of a dying breed of entertainers in the late 1950s, through the eyes of a magician. Directed by BAFTA Award winner Sylvain Chomet (Belleville Rendez-vous) and based on an unpublished story written by Oscar winner Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle) the magician’s life is seen on stage and in boarding houses as he tours with his show.

The pathos of an act which once attracted an appreciative  audience of thousands now playing to a handful of viewers whose expectations are set by the magic of cinema is one which many artistes will relate to. Indeed anyone who has ever been made redundant by the introduction of modern technology will understand the puzzlement experienced by our Illusionist as he watches audiences going wild for dubiously talented rock stars while he and the entertainers of the past gradually slip into oblivion.

Only on a remote (and unsophisticated) island (Iona) off the west coast of Scotland does the Illusionist’s magic impress. The naive object of his entrancement is a young girl called Alice who follows him to his next ‘gig’ in Edinburgh. His lodgings are shared with other performers on the circuit, similarly struggling with their decline.

Hanging on to the illusion of his own magic, the Illusionist gives Alice everything she wishes, taking on a job in a garage to pay for them. There can be no happy ending for him. Tati’s world is a hard one and, unlike Belleville Rendez-vous, where Grandmother’s perseverance pays off, one is left with a sense of profound sadness.

For many, though, it will be the magic of the animation, rather than the perhaps weak plot, that thrills. The accuracy of the settings is quite exceptional as Edinburgh’s back streets (it was Prague in the Tati’s tale) and the towering influence of Arthur’s Seat are brought to life. One has to acknowledge the irony of what was once a dying art being revived so beautifully and so successfully by its French and Czech collaborators.

The Illusionist [DVD]
is available from Amazon.

Published by

Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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