Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Illusionist (2010)

aka L'illusioniste
Sylvain Chomet, 2010, UK-France (8.0*)
#873 on our 2011 update of Top Ranked 1000 Films (all polls)
This is not to be confused with the real action film about a magician played by Edward Norton - this Illusionist is another hand-animated feature from Chomet, creator of the wonderful Triplets of Belleville, which emulated 50's Disney animated features in Chomet's own wonderfully warped style. In a documentary on the dvd, Chomet talks about the influence of those films on his early development as an animation artist, so he still renders these without computer animation, so these are made up of about 129,000 individual drawings for a 90 minute film, or 1440 per minute (24 p/sec x 60 sec), and of course, usually only the characters themselves move over a fixed background, which allow for much more detail in the animated 'set' since it won't be moving.

This film is actually a touching and poignant story from an unfilmed screenplay of French filmmaker and mime comic Jacques Tati. Like Triplets of Belleville and a Tati film, it has almost no dialog. Chomet has created a lead character that resembles Tati, so he's obviously animated this film to look like a film of Tati's. In this, Tati's character is a run-of-the-mill magician who plays near empty vaudeville venues.

Performing in Edinburgh, Scotland, he meets a young woman who is entralled by his tricks, and the two become close platonic friends; they explore the city together, and she eventually moves in with him.

Without giving anything away, I'll say that this is an adult story, with very little that would appeal to children, so right away that limits the market severely for animated features. This one doesn't even have the hilarity of Triplets of Belleville, which, though admittedly adult, still had Bruno the dog and a bicycle racer and other characters all ages could appreciate.

This is a valid effort by Chomet to give homage to Tati, and especially to his unfilmed story. I was quite touched by this story, and found it to be almost as unexpected and unpredictable as Triplets (but not quite, it's missing the same sparkle). For fans of Tati and Chomet, all will enjoy this, but it won't be one for the masses, only for the more discerning cinephiles.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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