(This film was screened at the 2010 Ottawa International Animation Festival.)

No one ever said life was fair, but its cruelest tricks are played on those who suddenly find their world swept out from under them by ever-changing times. This bitter truth underlines The Illusionist (L’illusionniste) the latest film by animator/director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville). Watch the full movie at 123movies.

Based on a previously unreleased script by legendary writer Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle, Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot), the film mixes mirth and melancholy in the tale of an old stage magician offering one last illusion for a young girl.

Sylvain Chomet Directs Django Films, Sony Pictures Classics’ The Illusionist

Tatischeff (Tati’s actual surname) is an illusionist long past his prime, plying his craft in increasingly dingy dance halls and trying to control his rambunctious rabbit. His contemporaries are losing their way, succumbing to their demons, while a wildly popular Beatles-esque rock group accentuates his irrelevance in the modern age.

At a pub gig in Edinburgh, he meets Alice, a child housekeeper in the hotel where he resides. Touched by his generosity and believing his magic is real, Alice follows Tatischeff out into the world, hoping that being around him will rub some magic into her own life. Finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet in a world that has little time for his skills, the old illusionist does what he can to show his young charge the magic she so desperately needs.

While Tatischeff’s story inevitably slides into its downward slope, Chomet is smart enough to lighten the sombre mood with unexpected humour. Certainly Tatischeff’s rabbit is good for some mayhem, while a never-ending cast of acrobats, ventriloquists and other music hall performers offer left-field laughs and their own touching moments.

Visually, this film is stunning: the backgrounds are nothing less than spectacular and the character designs are distinctive and witty. One scene where a drunk Tatischeff tries to stumble upstairs is brilliantly handled. However, Chomet outsmarts himself in one sequence, where a visual effect backfires: it looks gorgeous but it pulls the audience out of the story instead of immersing them further.

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Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist Mixes Mirth and Melancholy

In a genre that seems to revel in its lack of depth in the search for easily digestible entertainment, The Illusionist occupies that rare atmosphere of technical skill and emotional resonance that once seemed solely the province of Pixar. Sylvain Chomet has crafted a passionate, thoughtful and moving film and that’s why it gets a 4/5.

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