Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Illusionist

I am terrified of flying, really terrified, to the point where I go out of my way to avoid traveling to far off and mystical places or resolve myself to overdose on something for the trip. That may be why I love luxuriant films with beauty you can wallow in. Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist fits that bill perfectly, an animated travel log awash in soft pastels and tongue in cheek cultural jabs that are constantly eye catching. Without dialog, the tale of a struggling French magician as he wanders the Scottish countryside with a young barmaid is immersive and gorgeous. As in his other great film, The Triplets of Belleville, Chomet expertly creates real people out of two-dimensional drawings, paying close attention to things like the swinging, over-exaggerated hips of an anorexic French singer smoking a cigarette, or the big-nosed, ruddy complexion of a Scottish bar owner as he hiccups his way across the screen dancing a jig. Chomet captures the subtle difference between each person’s foot falls which, with their mumbled jibberish and grunts, all work together to make the film feel as full as real life or weave masterfully comic scenes, as is the case whenever the band below takes a step on stage.

But despite the bright colors and child-like wonder that Chomet easily spins, The Illusionist is darker at heart than Triplets, with an ending that many may find surprising. It leaves the adults in the audience with a feeling of camaraderie, that now it’s time to put away childish things and accept life for what it is--that it’s all an illusion. But instead of basking in the melodramatic sentimentality and a saccharine feeling of loss, there is a comforting acceptance.

While the mere experience of the film is enjoyable enough, at some point it takes too much time, luxuriates too much, and becomes boring, especially with the bland scoring by Chomet himself, which if done correctly could have produced a near perfect film. Because it is more straightforward than Triplets and contains more subtle invention than the outright scenes of the Triplets playing various appliances as musical instruments or of fighting the American mob to the point of silliness, The Illusionist feels like the less remarkable cousin, even though the films are entirely different in nature and context.

Sometimes though, a little yawning is the least of your problems and The Illusionist is easy to get swept up in despite the slow stretches.

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