Friday, February 18, 2011
THE ILLUSIONIST is told so wordlessly that no subtitles are given, even though it is a French film. The story unfolds entirely through the films animated visuals, which are gorgeous--especially the cityscapes, which show Edinburgh shrouded in darkness and fog, illuminated here and there by streetlights. It is not a difficult story to follow, though the story is presented in such a different way from most films, that it may take some minutes to get used to. That the story comes from an unproduced script by Jacques Tati comes as no surprise.
Although THE ILLUSIONIST is animated, it bears Tati's stamp. The humor is gentle and lighthearted. The gags are almost entirely visual. Like Tati, director Sylvain Chomet does a nice job of giving tertiary characters something to do, so that your eye is constantly being pulled from background to foreground. The editing is nice too. A scene will abruptly end a few seconds before you expect it to, adding to it's punch. For instance, in the scene on the train when a mother in the background unexpectedly slaps her child, the scene cuts before we see the child's reaction, before we even realize what has happened, giving the scene a crisp quality and adding to the humor (the fact that this act of child abuse is animated no doubt adds some levity). This is not to say that the film is briskly edited. Scenes are allowed to breathe and the shots are long and stationary, as if the action is taking place on a stage.
The story unfolds quietly. It draws you in and, before you know it, you are involved with these muttering characters. The film ends with an emotional impact that I didn't expect (and the score in these final scenes is particularly haunting). Though the relationship between the illusionist and Alice is more resonant of father-daughter, the metaphor works nicely for all types of love. It does seem, from time to time, that magic not only exists, but that it's the best possible explanation for the mysterious things in life.