The world critics of THE ILLUSIONIST go on about ”melancholia”, ”nostalgia”, and ”emotion’, as if addressing some Walt Disney production. In fact, the critics are taking precisely the nostalgic perspective that the film abandons as a premise.
The critics’ response is a part of the film’s satirical targeting. Ostensibly a story about the departure of Magic from the world, THE ILLUSIONIST is all about the fact that THERE IS NO MAGIC IN THE WORLD TO BEGIN WITH, while all pain, sadness and misunderstanding come from people’s stubborn belief in the Magic.
Chomet’s artistry lies in the way he captures this existential error in the subtle nuances of character animation. Not by breathing life into dead things – rather, by bringing dead things back to life. Paul Welles once said, ”animation is reanimation”.
As Tatichef (the Illusionist, based on Jacques Tati) walks the streets of Edinburgh, Chomet paints a detailed canvas of all the ordinary people crossing his path. Their movements are stifled, awkward, the movements of zombies. Consumerism is starting to flourish in the 1950s setting, and everybody seems to be looking for Magic, coded by rock’n’roll and the glimmering white coat that Tatichef’s adopted daughter desires.
Meanwhile, between all these planned movements, we see an incredibly rich portrait of human quirks. Every single frame in this movie breathes personality. It’s as though in their pursuit of the Magic people have forgotten the ”real magic” – their own character! Illuminated from within by the unpredictable light of the Scottish skies, the world shows its amazing singularity.
I suppose if I was in a sufficiently theoretical frame of mind, I would say that THE ILLUSIONIST observes language with the same suspicion that you sense in Jacques Tati’s other stories. Misunderstanding largely seems to come from spoken language, and the film’s pantomime – which reveals the glitches, the errors and the repetitions in movement – accesses the human condition far more directly.