Starring: Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Running Time: 80 mins
The Illusionist (L’Illusioniste) is a British/French film about a struggling magician who travels to Scotland, where he meets a woman and embarks on an adventure that will change both of their lives.
There are so many loud, brash and melodramatic films out there, but watching movies like The Illusionist make you wonder why you would ever want to make a film like that. A deeply gorgeous piece of quiet, calm storytelling, The Illusionist provides an almost unparalleled hour and a half of relaxing yet enthralling viewing, complete with wonderful animation, down-to-earth drama and pleasant, heartfelt storytelling throughout.
Playing out over the course of its short but striking 80 minute runtime with next to no dialogue, The Illusionist is a movie that proves the power of film in its purest form, using the magic of moving pictures, sound and stories to wrap you up in another world like no other art can.
Its story isn’t necessarily remarkable, and nor are its main characters, following the adventures of a struggling, aging magician as he attempts to find work, ultimately settling in the big city of Edinburgh to try and find a steady position, as well as a shy young woman from a remote island who begins to find confidence and strength in herself as she exposed to the world.
But while they aren’t particularly remarkable people, the way their story comes to life on screen certainly is. Using wonderfully patient pacing and a calm affinity for emotional drama, The Illusionist brings more depth, humanity and emotional power to this very down-to-earth story than almost any other film, showing the two characters’ differing fortunes and worldviews through blissfully simple scenarios and encounters.
And with an almost total absence of dialogue, The Illusionist forces itself to be all about showing you what it’s trying to say, rather than just telling it straight to your face. In that, there’s a wonderful sense of artistic ambiguity and voice at play, as, along with its help, you’re left to interpret and uncover the core meanings and emotions at play, something that proves immensely satisfying as a viewer, but also plays further into the film’s uniquely calming presence.
That calming presence is in fact what really makes The Illusionist such an outstanding film for me. Its story is filled with wonderful drama that hits both high and low notes throughout, but the film is more gorgeous than any for me simply because watching it feels like you’re sitting in a gallery, looking at a famous painting.
Not only because of its animation, but because of that need to sit and think to fully understand and interpret what the film is trying to say. Of course, its simpler drama means that that’s not a taxing job for you, but it creates a wonderful mental connection between yourself and the filmmakers, as you begin to tap into the psyche of what the film is about, opening up the door for deeper and deeper emotion and drama as the story develops, which the filmmakers take brilliant advantage of in the latter stages.
You could absolutely still watch The Illusionist with your brain turned off, bathing in its calm warmth and gorgeous visuals. However, if you choose to go deeper, there’s so much to this film that you really wouldn’t be able to see just from the surface.
From the outside, it seems simple and cute, and it does an amazing job at painting a picturesque portrait of its time period and setting, with wonderful hand-drawn scenery and striking visual textures throughout. However, more than anything, The Illusionist is a film that has a lot to say, and brings you deep, deep into its core to show you just that, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.5 overall.