Sylvain Chomet directs Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin and Duncan MacNeil in this animated revival of an unfilmed Jacques Tati script; where an ageing magician visits Scotland looking for work when television and Rock’N’Roll empty the music halls.
A very sad film. A very funny film. A very beautiful film. There are two stories running parallel here. A platonic romance and the death of the vaudeville scene. The latter is presented mournfully. An artist struggling (refusing?) to come to terms with that. Although he lives hand to mouth and has to play disinterested houses, our illusionist doesn’t suffer as much as some of his peripheral peers. We glimpse other’s sad demises; a clown beaten in the street by wee bams, a pawned off prop that feels like the very soul of its down on his luck owner. The relationship between our beanpole gentleman vagabond and the naive girl from the Highlands who doesn’t know how the world works is sweeter. She doesn’t understand the cost of the pretty things she sees in window displays, he doesn’t want to rob her of the idea he can magic these luxuries up. He struggles with the dishonesty and brash attitudes of the real world, she gives him domesticity and regularity that means he can slowly give up on chasing a dying dream for ever decreasing returns. Both discover magic isn’t the answer to their loneliness. That feels like an unhappy ending but it is better than the tragedy that befalls those without companionship. Maybe only Edinburgh residents will appreciate this last point but it is testament to the loving craft put into the stunning design of the film. The sheer accuracy in the geography and landmarks of the Scotland they explore is mind blowing. The bus numbers, shop signs and alleyways of Edinburgh are all painstakingly researched and recreated so you could utilise the cartoon as a working map of the capital city. The Illusionist is a love letter to Edinburgh’s uneven beauty as well as conjuring and amity.