The Illusionist – wistful and charming

Sylvain Chobert (The Triplets of Belleville) made this wistful animated charmer from a screenplay by the French master director Jacques Tati, who died in 1982.  The Illusionist tells the story of a small time magician whose act no longer appeals to a postwar audience.  As he prospects for an ever bleaker array of gigs, he drifts through show a biz detritus of seamy dressing rooms and broken talent.  He meets a girl, who attaches herself to him to escape her drab existence.  The magician selflessly works to help her blossom.  It’s an innocent and sweet tale made bitterweet by the harsh grimness of his situation.

I wasn’t a big fan of Triplets of Belleville, but here Chobert strikes every note perfectly.  It’s an essentially silent film that captures the tone of Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.  (Indeed, when the magician drops into a movie theater, it’s showing Tati’s masterpiece Mon Oncle.)   It’s a fine movie with a sweetness that is rare in modern cinema.

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