Saturday, December 25, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Illusionist

The Illusionist
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
Released December 25, 2010

Animation offers a world of infinite possibilities since its characters and storyboards can take on any form and do anything. Characters need not be limited by what reality dictates, and hand-drawn images can often convey just as much as a three-dimensional capture of real-life. Animation can also be helpful in highlighting the simplicity of a particular thing, whether it’s a person or a lifestyle. Sylvain Chomet’s new film “The Illusionist” is a creative and clever animated film that tells the story of a magician whose road act continually takes him to new places.

“The Illusionist” treats its audience as sophisticated and old-fashioned because, after all, that’s how its main character functions. The illusionist practices a nostalgic trade, always dressing nicely and presenting his show in a dignified and elegant fashion. Early on, he finds his set continually delayed by young rock stars that drive the audience wild with their loud, aggressive music. The illusionist’s show is a return to simpler, quieter times for a man who’s never left them. The film follows his example, exploring the man’s life without much pizzazz or efforts to make him seem more enthusiastic.

That route is a gamble on the part of the film, offering up precious few lines of dialogue throughout its short eighty-minute run time. What little is said is mostly unintelligible and often in foreign languages, minus the use of subtitles or even the clear comprehension of the listener in the film. The absence of spoken words encourages the use of creative manners of expression such as body language, underlining the message that there are ways of communicating that don’t require excessive volume. The illusionist goes from town to town making his small impact on people, and once he is gone, his presence is likely forgotten. While he might prefer a more appreciative stable audience, he likely wouldn’t have it any other way. He is a simple man who seeks to mesmerize and entertain, if only for a moment.

As might be expected from a quiet, somber tale like this, the film is occasionally slow. Its subtlest minutes often feel like hours, and, like the oft-ignored illusionist himself, the film doesn’t outright demand the attention of its audience. Some will find the slower segments compelling and meaningful, while others may become easily distracted and find getting through the film to be a burden. For this viewer, it was an even mix of the two sentiments. At times, the film is meaningful and memorable, and, at others, overly pensive. Reminiscent of fellow Best Animated Feature Oscar contender “My Dog Tulip,” it works best when it shows the illusionist’s heartwarming and heartbreaking interactions with the girl to whom he gives kindness and the opportunity to see the world. Even if it’s not entirely engaging, “The Illusionist” is a thoughtful, contemplative, endearing story about one unconventional type of traveling salesman.


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