Herewith a postscript to yesterday's post on what is the 'Opening Film' of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The film was premiered yesterday at the Festival Theatre. It gains a five star review in The Times today. (Unfortunately accessing The Times now requires registration and will soon require payment - so here is the review in full.)
It’s hard to imagine a picture more perfectly suited to the slot of Opening Film of the Edinburgh International Film Festival than Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist. Not only is this gorgeous animated feature an eloquent and cine-literate homage to the cinema of another era — specifically that of Jacques Tati, whose unproduced screenplay provided the basis for the film — but, crucially, a large proportion of the story unfolds in the Edinburgh of the late 1950s.
And the city has never looked more enchanting. Chomet was captivated by the mercurial play of light and gothic capriciousness of Edinburgh when he showed his first feature, Belleville Rendez-vous, at the film festival in 2003. Edinburgh made such an impact that he moved his studio there, the better to familiarise himself with the city’s fickle moods. The result is almost painfully lovely. Working almost entirely with hand-drawn animation rather than computer-generated techniques, Chomet uses light and colour with the visual articulacy of the cinematographer Jack Cardiff at his most expressionistic.
The story is unashamedly nostalgic. A down-at-heel French conjuror called Tatischeff — in name and in mannerisms clearly Tati’s animated alter-ego — scrapes a living at the end of an era that has already written him off as a quaint irrelevancy. He hauls the trappings of his fading career — a moth-eaten top hat, a neatly rolled poster, a savagely ill-tempered white rabbit — increasingly far afield in search of a stage on which to perform. His audience, meanwhile, seem far more interested in the burgeoning rock’n’roll scene, particularly a bunch of braying, limp-wristed fops called Billy Boy and the Britoons (a piece of gentle Brit-ribbing designed to strike a chord with the Scottish audience).
So when Tatischeff arrives on a distant Scottish isle to perform at a party to celebrate the arrival of electricity, he is delighted to discover that, for one young girl at least, his magic is absolutely real.
Alice is a wide-eyed innocent on whom the kindly illusionist takes pity, “conjuring up” a new pair of shoes to replace her worn hobnail boots. But when Alice follows him to Edinburgh Tatischeff finds that the expense of maintaining the illusion with increasingly lavish gifts becomes ruinous.
And life for the small community of performers lodged in their guest house is equally tough. At the close of this poignant paean to the age of the stage performer, Tatischeff leaves a note to Alice, telling her: “Magicians do not exist.” In fact, the beguiling spell that Sylvain Chomet has woven on screen proves that they most certainly do. - Wendy Ide in today's Times.
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