Review: The Illusionist


Directed by: Sylvain Chomet
Written by:Sylvain Chomet
Released: September 1, 2011
Grade: A-

I’ve been disappointed with this year’s crop of animated features (Yogi Bear, Cars 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Gnomeo & Juliet) and so it’s a refreshing surprise that I many positive things to say about The Illusionist.  It’s a shame it’s taken so long to reach Brisbane cinemas given it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival more than 18 months ago and it earned an Academy Award nomination for best animated feature earlier this year.

The film is French but it doesn’t contain a single sub-title.  Don’t be perturbed.  There’s a simple reason – there is no dialogue whatsoever.  It’s reminiscent of the silent films from the 1920s where actions, hand gestures, facial expressions and music do all the talking.  It’s such a beautiful way to present an animated film.  So very different from what is churned out from the major studios in the United States.

The story is set in 1959 and revolves around a struggling magician trying to find work.  Audiences are no longer interested in his array of tricks.  They’ve seen them all before.  They know most of his secrets.  He now realises that people would pay to see a new, hip rock band than watch an elderly illusionist pull a rabbit from a hat.

He leaves his home in Paris and goes in search of fresh audiences overseas.  He travels to London and then further north to Edinburgh.  He doesn’t have much luck finding a steady job but he meets an innocent young girl who is unexpectedly enchanted by his simple magic act.  The two become friends with each drawing on the other for support.

Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets Of Belleville), The Illusionist is a charming piece of cinema.  Whilst they hardly say a word, I felt much sorrow for these two lonely characters and the changing world in which they find themselves.  The exquisite film score, also composed by Chomet, further adds to the film’s emotion.

It’s worth noting that The Illusionist features no 3D animation and has been put together using traditional hand drawn animation.  It hasn’t stopped Chomet from coming up with some truly memorable images.  They include everything from panoramic shots of Edinburgh at night to the simple reflection of a flashing “HOTEL” sign through an open window.

The film is only receiving a limited release in Australia and I urge you to check out The Illusionist while the opportunity presents itself.