Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Illusionist

I'm not talking about the big flashy movie that came out a number of years ago of the same name, starring Edward Norton and Jessica Biel. I'm talking about a small animated movie with very little dialogue that's out right now. It's closing soon in Toronto, where I'm based, so if you're based here too, try and see it ASAP if you can. If you're based somewhere else, see whether it's playing and for how long. It's a simple and quiet movie, but very much worthwhile.

The story is actually so simple it feels bizarre: an old-fashioned sort of magician, gaunt, baggy-eyed, and hunched over, travels around pulling a rabbit out of a hat and a bouquet of flowers from up his sleeve for sparse audiences. One show he does is at a pub in the Scottish highlands, where he meets a local girl working as a chambermaid. Noticing her ragged shoes, he buys her some new ones, presenting them to her as though it's a magic trick by pulling them out of the air. She is delighted, and follows him to Edinburgh, where she is seduced by all the fancy clothes in the windows of the big city shops. He has to work harder and harder to support her increasingly expensive tastes, while she all the while persists in thinking he is producing the pretty things by magic.

This movie is visually lovely and, as I've said, contains practically no dialogue, รก la Triplets of Belleville. To watch it is to appreciate how much in life goes unsaid.

However, there is one very strange thing about The Illusionist, which was illuminated by this letter that Tati's grandson apparently sent to the movie critic Roger Ebert. The very strange thing I'm talking about is the nature of the relationship between the magician and the chambermaid. Though it seems vaguely to have the tenor of a romance, there is little if any romantic chemistry between the two characters and the movie somewhat oddly makes a point of showing you that they never sleep together. They actually have little chemistry of any kind, never mind romantic. The girl points out her heart's desire for that day, and the magician procures it for her.

Tati's grandson explains that the original script envisioned a father-daughter sort of relationship, which makes sense to me now, but I could not have described this relationship that way or any way on the basis of watching the movie.

Still, this picture is a gem, and you should see it if you can.


  1. I have nothing to say about the illusionist, which I take to be a somehow appropriate reaction. However, this made me think of Tati, of Mr. Hulot's Holiday, of Playtime and of Mon Oncle. Hulot is a magical creature, a true human being (I once wrote an undergrad paper arguing that Hulot is the best cinematic example of what Marx called a Universally Developed Individual, which I then went further, in true undergrad fashion, to argue as being essentially a modern reincarnation of Aristotle's virtuous person). This is all perhaps a tad far-fetched(hey, i git an A+ though!)but If you have not seen these three movies, you need to take action. Now.

  2. I see why you have nothing to say about The Illusionist. Even though I wrote a whole few paragraphs about it, I could sum up by saying it's nice, it's sweet, and it's worth a see, although it's imperfect.

    Of the three movies you mentioned, I have seen two. Per your suggestion, I will be taking immediate action on the third.