Friday, January 14, 2011
The Illusionist (L'Illusionniste)
It has been awhile since Animation is no longer an art format reserved just for entertaining children. For example, the profoundly moving Japanese drama "Grave of the Fireflies" (火垂るの墓,) should be on everybody's must-see list. And, who would not be delighted by French director Sylvain Chomet's feature debut "The Triplets of Belleville" (Les Triplettes de Belleville)? His second feature "The Illusionist" (L'Illusionniste | UK/France 2010 | 80 min.) is truly a visual poetry for all ages.
The film is based on a semi-autobiographical screenplay written by the late legendary filmmaker Jacques Tati. With little dialogue, if any at all, the film elegantly tells a heartwarming yet melancholia story between an aging magician and an innocent country girl, and the magician's performance partner—an energetic rabbit.
The film's protagonist is a French magician named Tatischeff—Jacques Tati's full last name. He clumsily staggers with stiff feet, but smoothly executes his magical routines, even his magic performance's appeal is fading away fast in the late 1950s when rock 'n' roll takes over the center stage. He travels from place to place and struggles to find gigs. When he performs in a small coast village in Scotland, he meets an innocent girl Alice who is fascinated by his magic. She follows him to Edinburgh and stays with him in a hotel. Quickly, Alice gets comfortable with the city life, and Tatischeff can no longer keep up with her desire for things she thinks the magician produces with magic; therefore, he continues his journey to keep his magic alive.
The film is a remarkable achievement for creating lovable characters and telling a touching story, all by hand-drawn fantastic animation and beautiful music scores, which is composed by the director Sylvain Chomet as well. Each frame, especially of those landscape sceneries, is perfectly marvelous as if it is a Chinese ink-and-wash style painting from a museum. You wish the animation would stop and freeze, so not only you can take a detailed look at the painting, but also allow the magician and his performance art to stay at the time being eternally.
In an age that computer generates everything, including real person in a live action film, it is extremely refreshing and gratifying to see such a high quality animation like this. Perhaps soon, films like "The Illusionist." might become a nostalgic art form in memory, just like Tatischeff's magic performance, but not before enchanting the audience.