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The Independent Critic

Didier Gustin, Edith Rankin, Frederic Lebon, Jean-Claude Donda
Sylvain Chomet
Jacques Tati, Sylvain Chomet
Rated PG
80 Mins.
Sony Classics

 "The Illusionist" Review 
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The Illusionist?

How could it be, more than one of you responded after my posting of The Independent Critic's Top 10 of 2010, that this relatively obscure film could genuinely outrank such acclaimed American films as Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon?

Those of you who witnessed Sylvain Chomet's 2003 Oscar nominee The Triplets of Belleville may very well understand the brilliance that is The Illusionist, Chomet's latest film based upon an extended treatment first scribed in the late 1950's by great French comic actor Jacques Tati about an aging, increasingly obscure magician being swept under by a wave of more flashy and popular performers.

Fast forward over 50 years, and Sylvain Chomet has lovingly and masterfully created 2010's most beautifully realized animated feature that most assuredly should find itself among the more market-friendly fare likely to garner most of the attention during this year's Oscars.  In a sense, The Illusionist is much like its central character - a throwback to another era with its 2-D animation and hand-drawn brilliance.

The hero of The Illusionist is Tatischeff (Jean-Claude Donda), an aging musician who struggles to survive and remain relevant on the smaller stages and music halls to which entertainers of his kind have been relegated. Tatischeff is, for the most part, on his way out as a musician and he travels from European city to European city hoping that there just might be a place left for him in the world. It is when he stumbles into Alice (Eilidh Rankin), a young and rather naive chambermaid, that he begins to discover a long missing spark as he becomes a sort of father figure, protector and guardian.

It is not unusual for an animated feature to leave me awestruck, nor is it that unusual for an animated feature to leave me laughing. Yet, it's incredibly rare for an animated feature to completely sweep me up into its world in such a way that leaves me laughing, weeping, genuinely moved and unable to erase the images that I have seen from my mind.

In short, The Illusionist is the best animated feature of 2010, though it should be noted that the majority of America that has the good fortune to view this film will do so in 2011.

Chomet embraces Tati's minimalism and with tremendous faithfulness the very essence of Tati is felt in virtually every frame of this melancholy, gently humorous and deeply felt cinematic wonder that accomplishes more during its periods of silence than the vast majority of American films could do in virtually their entire running time. In fact, The Illusionist most reminds me of Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece City Lights, a silent film that says far more than virtually any film I've ever seen.

The greatest compliment that I can possibly pay a film is to be sitting here struggling for the words, a warmth overwhelming me while tears stream down my face as I recall Chomet's miraculous ability to paint images of belief, magic, doubt and love. As Tatischeff grows closer to the wonderfully innocent Alice, a young woman who still believes in magic, we ourselves are rewarded with the world he tries to create for her through something like devotion or love or perhaps just desperation.

Toy Story 3 at least once made me weep and, indeed, was a joy to behold.

How to Train Your Dragon inspired and transported me to another world I never wanted to leave.

But, The Illusionist?

Oh my, The Illusionist changed me in ways big and small and I am better for having seen it. It is often said that cinema has the power to transform and transcend.

Ah, that's it. The Illusionist is transcendent.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic

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