The Illusionist is an incredible story directed by Sylvain Chomet, the same man who brought us Triplets of Belleville in 2003. I should say that I loved Triplets, and so I came into The Illusionist with very high expectations. It absolutely delivered, and on a more heart-wrenching level than Chomet’s first animation.
The Illusionist follows the life of an older gentleman, a French traveling magician looking for work and finding it only in the lowliest of places. His particular breed of stage performance is shown being eclipsed by young, up and coming rockstars, to both our amusement and dismay. When he is invited to Scotland to perform in a bar, he meets a young woman who, seeking adventure, decides to go with him when he departs town. Their lives are forever changed by this momentous decision.
It is needless to say that the animation is absolutely breathtaking. Each frame is a masterpiece unto itself. Every character is completely different from every other but still they manage to exist seamlessly in the same universe. Chomet is a genius because aside from a few muffled words and fully intended grunts, gasps, and yells, the film is devoid of a spoken narrative. The storyline is propelled forward by subtlety and happenings that are fully compelling despite their quiet. Chomet is able to make every movement and event have this momentousness and sensation that would have been lost on viewers if it were not for its silent treatment. Quiet as it may be, the pacing is not sped up to make up for it. In fact, the pacing is steady and bracing, slow but tension-building simultaneously. This is aided also by an amazing score, some of which is done by Chomet himself.
I don’t want to talk about the story too much. I want everyone who is reading this to go out and watch it instead of having it ruined by me. But I will say a few things. Each character is fully realized and goes through a tumult of development. I feel as though there was more character development in this single 80-minute “cartoon” than I’ve seen in most movies from this past year combined. They are charming, witty, and filled with hilarity as befits their whimsical illustrations and beautiful world, but they are also devastatingly believable, and force reality into firm view rather painfully at times. In the end, The Illusionist is truly a film of intense self-reflection, made possible only through the viewing of the vulnerabilities and plights of the characters we easily come to love as the story unwinds.
I give it a 10/10, easily.