Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Chomet's "The Illusionist" casts enchanting spell

An animated movie being screened by the Macon Film Guild? A rare occurrence indeed, but "The Illusionist" is a charming choice, an old-fashioned animated tale that gets much of its magic from its innocence.

The somewhat surprising Best Animated Picture Oscar nominee this year is from French director Sylvain Chomet, as was a previous Guild selection, "The Triplets of Belleville." And like that flick, "The Illusionist" features no discernible dialogue, yet has a whole lot to say.

The simple story, from a screenplay co-written by Chomet and the late French director and comedian Jacques Tati, centers on one key question: Is magic real? As the movie opens, we meet the magician Tatischeff, who is struggling as much with his ornery rabbit as he is the fact that he's becoming a relic in a world drawn to much more modern and flashy forms of entertainment.

With his run in Paris ending, Tatischeff accepts a drunken invitation from a wedding guest to bring his act to Scotland, and there he meets Alice, a young girl who becomes captivated by his magic tricks, including the gift of some much-needed shoes. Tati has said he originally wrote the story in the 1950s as a tribute to his estranged eldest daughter, and the relationship of Tatischeff and Alice indeed unfolds like that of a father and his child.

Though there's nothing at all unseemly about the relationship (it's in fact entirely innocent), it's still what makes "The Illusionist" not really a movie intended for kids. As Alice grows up and the allure of Tatischeff's tricks starts to fade, she slowly discovers the joys of the world around her (including, of course, boys) and the two of them start to grow apart. It becomes a poignant tale about loss and regret, but never loses the charm that makes it so enjoyable.

Everything about "The Illusionist" is old-fashioned, from the hand-drawn, gloriously 2-D animation that makes the European cities the duo visits a beautiful tableau to the jokes that pack a sly punch without ever clobbering you over the head.

And though the story is in the end a bit slight, Chomet wisely wraps things up in 80 minutes or so, while "The Illusionist" still has its own magic. All in all, his movie is well worth a trip to the Douglass Theatre this weekend for this latest offering from the Macon Film Guild. In full disclosure, however, you won't see me there, because this Sunday I'm off to Turner Field to watch Cliff Lee and the Phillies battle the Braves in this baseball season in which my Orioles are somehow 4-0. Now there's a magic act. Peace out.

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