The Edinburgh International Film Festival officially opens its curtains to the world with its opening film, The Illusionist. It’s the latest animation from Sylvian Chomet, who previously directed Belleville Rendez-Vous in 2003 – an Edinburgh International Film Festival favorite. The film had a hard journey to the screen; based from an un-produced screenplay from the great auteur Jacques Tati in 1963. Chomet, then, reached an agreement with Tati’s daughter to make the film, set between Paris and Czechoslovakia. But, Chomet changed the location from Czechoslovakia to Scotland – where he transferred his business and life after his first visit to EIFF.

Well a triumphant film emerge from the film’s development hell? Or will it be an epic disaster?

The Players:

  • Writer/Director: Sylvain Chomet
  • Producer: Sally Chomet and Sylvain Chomet

 

The Plot:

Set in 1959, an aging illusionist based in Paris; after being fired from a leading Paris theatre, he’s forced to travel to find paid work. His travels lead him to London to the Western Isles, there he encounters a young woman with a firm belief in his brand of magic and her future possibilities. The two of them travel to Edinburgh, where further adventures ensue.

The Good:

  • Animation: The animation is beautiful mixture of Disney-standard character design mixed with digital effects and water-color style painting settings. It’s an unforgettable visual experience.
  • Intelligent Observations: This is real life, not a flight of fantasy. Much of the film parallels the UK’s current unemployment problems and the devastation it has caused to its people. Magicians, clowns and ventriloquists are drawn into utter despair due to lack of jobs in stage entertainment; they become homeless, drunks and suicidal. They’re forced to sell their equipment to make ends meet, but that isn’t enough; they’re left to rot on the streets of Edinburgh.
  • Central relationship: The father-daughter relationship between the illusionist and a young woman is the heart beating through of the entire film, and it’s tremendous. She believes that his magic can bring her all the riches in the world and although he tries she slowly sees through the facade and they both have to face the truth – there is no magical way to solve the problem.
  • Light-hearted comedy: Even in the face of tragedy, Chomet is still able to find light-hearted comedy in mundane situations. For example; the Illusionist needs money and has to find a job in a garage and is in-charge of cleaning the car. The scene turns rather comical as he sits inside one of the cars he begins randomly pressing buttons and the car’s seats begins to move uncontrollably.

Good Or Bad:

 

  • Lack of Dialogue: The film is dialogue free with only a few murmurs in French and there are no subtitles needed. This is distracting at first, but you soon find yourself so caught up in what’s going on that you forget that words are normally spoken in films.

The Bad:

 

  • Too Long: The film feels stretched, even at a brisk 83 minutes; there are moments when the plot and characters meander around Edinburgh without any real purpose, and it’s quite distracting. Part of me feels like this could have been an excellent short animation.

Overall:

A compelling piece of work that is comparable with a Walt Disney animation. It’s charming, endearing and funny; and definitely deserves to find an audience.

Rating: 8/10