The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A magician’s bittersweet farewell

with 9 comments

If you’re going to watch The Illusionist in a DVD version, I’ll give you a piece of advice: don’t worry about the subtitles. You haven’t missed to check them and they aren’t broken. It’s all working as intended.

Trust me, I know after going through quite an ordeal before I finally accepted that the barely audible grunts I heard from characters once in a while weren’t something you needed to understand or bother about. Basically The Illusionist is something as rare as a silent movie in cartoon form.

Bittersweet and nostalgic
Based on a manuscript by the French film maker Jacques Tati, it stars an animated version of Tati himself. It tells the story about a magician, whose career must have peaked many years ago. Replaced by more modern forms of entertainment, such as rock bands, he sees his art form and income fade away and has to start taking any job that comes in his way. The performer who once upon a time filled theatres is now hired to make tricks with women’s bras to grab the attention to a shop window. Touring in Scotland the magician gets to know a girl who he develops a father-daughter like relationship with. But like everything else, that too will come to an end.

I can’t really say that I’m familiar with Tati’s movies; as a matter of fact I’ve avoided them since I’m quite cold towards slapstick humor. However you don’t need to love Tati to enjoy the movie. It stands perfectly well on its own.

It’s a simple little story, bittersweet and melancholic as the score, but never overwhelmingly so. It brought me more of nostalgia than despair. There will be a time in our lives when we’ll have to acknowledge and accept the course of time, moving out from the spotlights, leaving room for the next thing to come. We’ll set the rabbit free and we’ll feel sad, but we’ll learn to live with it.

I will also remember this movie for the beautiful drawings, so nuanced and delicate, different in style from the more distinct, colorful and computer made graphics we usually see in animated movies.

I visited Edinburgh for the first time this summer and fell in love with it at first sight. Together with New York, Paris and Visby, it’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. Hence I was utterly delighted when I found out that more than half of the movie takes place in Edinburg. It looks very much as I remember it, possibly a little prettier, leaving out the most dominant tourist industry elements from the picture. It’s a feast for the eyes – especially for Scotland romantics like me.

In case you haven’t realized it already: The Illusionist probably works best for an adult audience. Not because it has violent or sexually explicit content – it has neither. It’s rather the opposite situation; I think many children will find it too slow and quite hard to understand and engage themselves in. Take it as a heads-up in case you’re looking for a movie as a baby-sitter. There are other films that are far better for this purpose. I guess I’m preaching for the choir. It’s been quite a while since we assumed that anything that is drawn targets kids.

On the issue of magic
A last word of caution – Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this in case you’re sensitive about spoilers. But I think I need to do it anyway in order for anyone to be misled by this movie. There is a little misconception, you see. At one point we’re told that there are no magicians, stated as if it was a matter of fact.

That’s a lie.

I’m with Calvin & Hobbes. It’s still a magical world. We make it so.

The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, FR 2010) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

September 21, 2011 at 1:00 am

9 Responses

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  1. This sounds like a wonderfully unique film. you know how much I love Edinburg, so I will most definitely have to watch it now! I’m not familiar with Tati myself, but in general I love watching cartoon/animation movies (no voices sounds intriguing too). thanks for the tip! =)


    September 21, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    • I think you’ll enjoy it, as long as you don’t expect something funny or thrilling. Put yourself into an autumn mood and you’ll be fine. It shouldn’t be too hard to find it. I borrowed it from a library.


      September 21, 2011 at 2:35 pm

  2. I watched this via Netflix earlier in the year. I was impressed with the animation and the story, but wow did it leave me feeling sad. I’m glad you found it enjoyable though, as it was an interesting film.


    September 21, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    • It’s sad but not too sad for me. It’s the course of life you know… Eventually autumn will come. And this is a movie about autumn. A beautiful one.


      September 21, 2011 at 10:54 pm

  3. Haha, I thought the post concerned the ’06 movie called The Illusionist (see below) and didn’t get your comments on the sound at all 😀

    Still, this actually sounds like a far better and more interesting movie, albeit with an Ed Norton-deficiency.


    September 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    • Hehe. it’s one of those recycled titles which can cause some confusion. If you’re interested in animated movies for grown-ups, I can definitely recommend it.


      September 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm

  4. I watched this earlier in the year, and I too, enjoyed it immensely. I thought the tale was really charming, and the attention to detail in the animation was really incredible. I like Tati’s work (Mon Oncle is my favorite) and the resemblance between the illusionist and Tati is unmistakable.

    Andrew Buckle

    September 23, 2011 at 7:25 am

    • Maybe I should should get over my prejudices against Tati. Considering how much I enjoyed The Illusionist I wouldn’t rule out completely that I actually could like him.


      September 23, 2011 at 9:13 am

  5. […] The Illusionist – my favorite animated movie of this year. […]

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