Edinburgh Film Festival: The Illusionist

The new film from Belleville Rendez-vous director Sylvian Chomet is a reworking of a previously unproduced Jacques tati script. A lament for the dying days of Music Hall and old fashioned stage variety acts, it follows the titular stage magician as he journeys from France to Scotland in an attempt to earn an honest crust in a world turning to the newfangled rock’n’roll bands and television.

This kind of nostalgia for the lost clowns of a bygone age is something of an acquired taste, and I’ve never really acquired it – I find it all a bit too self-pitying. Yes, it’s sad to see a whole generation of performers being swept aside, but performers must know that the public is fickle. So perhaps it’s ironic that what I enjoyed most about the film is the defiantly old school craftmanship of the animation, the watercolour backgrounds and 2D artwork. It’s a pleasure to see this present and correct in a Festival that’s also running the 3D, computer animated Toy Story 3.

The film is infused with a strong sense of time and place, evoking life in an ancient city on the cusp of the swinging sixties; perhaps not surprising when you know Chomet moved the story to Edinburgh after falling in love with the city at a previous EIFF. The portraits of Edinburgh are a delight, as you find yourself mentally ticking off the locations – there’s North Bridge, there’s Princes Street, there’s Grassmarket – and they culminate in a breathtaking aerial panorama of the whole city by night that is over far too quickly. That brief scene is the lovliest thing I’ve seen at the Festival so far.


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