A gently funny, elegiac movie about the end of the music hall era and not so much the loss of innocence as its slow, unwitting replacement with experience. Travelling from Paris to a remote Scottish island and finally Edinburgh, The Illusionist has a superb sense of place – director Sylvain Chomet presents a view of Edinburgh in particular that is more recognisable than most live-action films. It’s rather prettier than the reality, but never picture-postcard predictable.
Based on a script by Jacques Tati, the film manages to capture the elegantly awkward clowning of Tati without falling into pastiche or parody. This heritage is nicely acknowledged by a ‘cameo’ of Tati’s Mon Oncle, the main character stumbling into a screening in, this being Edinburgh, the Cameo.
The Illusionist doesn’t have the anarchic energy of Chomet’s previous feature, Belleville Rendez-Vous, and the nature of the story is such that the film has a downbeat ending that comes across as somewhat unresolved. But Chomet’s knack for comic minutiae of character and his obvious affection for Edinburgh (as confirmed by his introduction of the film), make The Illusionist a charming experience and a perfect opener for the festival.
(This is the first time I’ve managed to get tickets for the opening night film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (not the red carpet screening, obviously, the screening for us little people afterwards). Not that it makes any difference to the film, but it gives me a certain nerdy satisfaction.)