It seems somewhat ridiculous, but THE ILLUSIONIST was my introduction to the work of Tati. A French artist that elevated the notion of what it was to be a silent clown in much the same way as Chaplin, his works are surreal, humorous and often sweet glimpses into the abnormality of normal events.
This film brings to the animated canvas the world of Tati’s playfulness, and the effect is sublime. We follow an itinerant magician who travels from gig to gig with bitey bunny and frayed marquee poster in tow. Landing in a pub in Scotland, he’s soon joined by a young girl who follows him and believes in his powers to conjure nearly anything.
The best films forget you’re watching a simple screen, that you’ve entered a complete world. That’s near impossible with animation, particularly of the stylized, 2D cell-type demonstrated here. The great trick of THE ILLUSIONIST is the astonishing way it makes the most subtle gesture come to life, making you forget that these are not real people, real characters that you’re viewing. From the gorgeous washes of the backgrounds to the intricate fastidiousness of the Hulout-type character, we are granted glorious manifestations of this form. Almost more remarkable is that the film is nearly free of dialogue, utilizing the same polyglot mumbling characteristic of other films of Tati, snatches of utterances that give a sense of what’s going one even if one doesn’t understand the words.
There are wonders from the classic animations studios, but this film (crafted with the same charm and sophistication by the makers of Les Triplettes de Belleville) stands in good stead, a very different take on this process of frame-by-frame story telling. A film full of wonder and daring, sentimental without being schlocky, this is a truly magical work. Bravo!