The Illusionist (2010)


Director:  Sylvain Chomet
Cast:  Jean-Claude DondaEilidh RankinDuncan MacNeil
Plot:  A French illusionist finds himself out of work and travels to Scotland, where he meets a young woman. Their ensuing adventure changes both their lives forever.

Genre:  Animation / Comedy / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Animated Feature.
Runtime:  80min
Rating:  PG for thematic elements and smoking.

Sylvain Chomet’s talent is simply incredible.  There are no words to describe The Illusionist, his latest film that is adapted from a Jacques Tati screenplay.  In case you are wondering, Tati was one of the great French directors who made his name in the 1950s and 1960s with acclaimed comedies such as Mon Oncle (1958) and Playtime (1967).

Combining Tati’s sensitive yet humorous observations of society with Chomet’s traditional hand-drawn animation, The Illusionist is an affecting and beautiful film, and it demands additional viewings just to fully appreciate its artistry.

The Illusionist tells the story of an old, struggling French magician who finds it hard to get anyone to watch him perform tricks.  He goes around Europe, trying to earn a living, and chances upon a Scottish girl, Alice, who is enthralled by his illusions, thinking they are real.  She follows him to London, where they stay in a small hotel.  The magician buys her new clothes and shoes, and she cooks for him soup.

A seemingly simple plot slowly builds up, with the help of colorful supporting characters and the picturesque setting, into a heartaching portrait of life in the changing 1950s.  While the relationship between the magician and Alice remains integral to the plot, it is the social observation that the film so brilliantly handles that elevates it into something that pierces deep into our hearts.  

Despite being set in the past, the themes explored by Chomet (and Tati) remain very much relevant today such as the struggle to make ends meet by artists whose works or performances find few admirers.  Not coincidentally, Tati’s Playtime was a commercial failure and bankrupted him, which probably led him to write The Illusionist, a semi-autobiographical screenplay of sorts in which the magician represented himself.

Much of Chomet’s film plays out without dialogue.  Even audible interactions between characters are intentionally short and vague, almost indiscernible to the naked ear.  So it is like Chaplin meets Miyazaki, and I mean it to be a loose description, because The Illusionist is not as fantastical and melodramatic as the works of the great Japanese animator, neither is it as reliant on the physical comedy that Chaplin famously excels in.  

But do allow me to point out that Chomet’s film is most definitely not inferior to either of the artists’ best works.  The Illusionist is a gem of an animated film, and could possibly have given Toy Story 3 (2010) a run for its money if not for its limited release.  It is also as equally deserving of the Oscar as its Pixar counterpart.

Because of its late release in Singapore, I will classify Chomet’s film as a 2011 picture, and it stands a very good chance to be included in my list of Top 10 Films of 2011.  Without doubt, The Illusionist is an absolute must-watch, not only for fans of animation, but for everyone else too.


Click here to go back to Central Station.




daniel said…
Best film of 2010 ? Almost certainly. People just have to stop fawning over Inception.

Popular Posts