Movie Review: Sylvain Chômet is a true “Illusionist”

The Illusionist **** (4)

I really should have tried harder for a pun with a movie I liked as much as The Illusionist. I actually had a relatively unique experience in seeing this movie. I am in France right now and as this is a French movie I was hoping to see it. But it was in theaters here a very long time ago. Practically the Stone Ages. Like July. But fortunately, there is the nationwide Telerama film festival going on, where for one weekend and at select theaters, the best movies to be released in France during 2010 played for one last time. And The Illusionist was one of these films.

One of the virtues of the film was actually an initial disappointment for me. I went to this movie to challenge myself. I wanted to see a french movie and practice my comprehension. This goal was not accomplished since the vast majority of the film is without dialogue. This is both a plot point and a technical device.

As a plot point, it stems from our magician hero’s inability to speak other languages besides French. As the entertainment industry shifts and his magic career begins to fade, he starts to take smaller jobs. He travels to Scotland for a gig in a small town in a cozy bar. There, he inspires one of the local girls with his real magic and the gifts he bestows upon her. She, not speaking any French, capriciously decides to join the magician and be near the magic.

Their quiet and thoughtful relationship is the driving force of the film, and is had almost entirely without and speaking between the two of them. Their silence allows the visuals of the movie to shine. And after all a movie is the union between moving image and sound. Here, the gorgeous score that director Sylvain Chomet composed himself perfectly mirrors the tender and silent relationship that develops.

All is not fun and games in this movie, though. This film is a flawless elegy for those who have lost a dream and for those who hold fast to them. The complexity that this film discusses about modernity and the inexorable force of time is rival to One Hundred Year of Solitude. No subject is too small or too vast for this tranquil and moving film. The final 10 minutes are a sweeping blur that evokes the strongest emotions in the viewer.

This film was an ultimate winner when it came to Oscar nominations today. It bested a lot of weaker entries and secured an Animated Feature nomination. It probably also deserved a score nomination, but beggars can’t be chooser. I hope the nomination gives audience more access to this movie. It certainly deserves it.

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