The Illusionist (2010): **
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
The Illusionist is a periodically charming, vaguely frustrating,
and ultimately disappointing second film from Triplettes of Belleville
director Sylvain Chomet.
The story behind the making of The Illusionist is almost a better
story than the one in the film; originally written by classic French film
mime/comedien Jacques Tati in 1956, it is now an animated film starring
an animated version of Tati as the main character, the titular Illusionist.
The film is mostly silent, except for a couple of sentences (in English
in the version I saw) and some mumbled Scottish/Gaelic and French words.
It is important in a silent film that the action always be crystal clear.
In Chomet’s Belleville it was; you could always tell what
each character’s goals, motivations, and feelings were in pretty
much every situation. But in The Illusionist so often I just
could not fathom why the characters did some of the things they did; in
extreme cases, I wasn’t even sure exactly what they did,
which is never a good sign.
The main character is, by design, a rather inscrutable fellow. He is
very stoic and does not seem to betray much emotion on his face, which
makes him rather hard to read. We get hints here and there, but we never
really feel what he thinks about this whole situation, since his reactions
are so low-key and subdued. Why does he hide from the girl at one point?
Is he embarrassed? Why doesn’t he let her in the car at another?
Why does he set the rabbit free? Well, I know that one is kinda symbolic,
but people in the real world never do things just becasue they’re
symbolic; there needs to be a real reason behind people’s actions
because it’s difficult to become emotionally involved with people
who act arbitrarily.
There are several scenes that are extremely well done and full of charm,
but mostly they have little to do with the plot. The scene where the Illusionist
is worried that the girl has cooked his rabbit; the scene where he helps
the acrobats paint a giant sign; some funny bits about the Illusionist
being replaced by the gayest rock-and-roll band ever; the Illusionist
stumbling into a movie theater showing one of Jacques Tati’s real,
Charming though it was at points, I left the theater scratching my head
a bit. I felt as though there was a good film in there, but that I had
been given a puzzle with a handful of missing pieces and was expected
to find the whole picture.