In 2003, animated film director and comic artist Sylvain Chomet premiered his film Les Triplettes de Belleville at Cannes. Legend has it that Jerome Deschamps and Macha Makeieff – the custodians of celebrated French director Jacques Tâti’s cannon – were suitably impressed by Chomet’s work to entrust him with an unproduced script by the deceased comedic master. Titled simply Film Tâti No. 4, Chomet directed 300 creatives and 80 animators over seven years to turn it into the beautiful – and very grown-up – animated film, The Illusionist.
The Illusionist tells the sad, sweet story of a kind-hearted French magician forced to eek out a living travelling from one insignificant venue to another as the popularity of his craft dies out in post-WWII Europe. When he arrives in an obscure Scottish village, only recently acquainted with electricity, he encounters a young girl taken with what she believes are his legitimately magical powers. When she follows him to Edinburgh, he sacrifices his personal pride to provide for her by taking on more and more menial jobs, all the while maintaining the girl’s misapprehension.
Rumored to have been written by Tâti as a kind of apology to his estranged eldest daughter (whom he had abandoned in her infancy), The Illusionist is gentle, melancholy and genuinely moving without straying into overwrought sentimentality. Virtually devoid of dialogue, its elegant and nuanced hand-drawn style boasts a warmth so often lacking from contemporary animation.
Released elsewhere 12 months ago – it was nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars earlier this year – The Illusionist finally gets its Australian release at the Nova next week. A relaxing deep breath of a film, it transports its audience to a place removed from the onrush of modern life.
A rare treat – sweet but not cheesy – Chomet delivers a perfect cosy winter night at the movies. Take a date and leave holding hands.
The Illusionist opens at Cinema Nova today (July 28).
We’ve got free in season double passes to see The Illusionist at Cinema Nova. To win email firstname.lastname@example.org with your address and ‘The Illusionist’ as the subject.