Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: The Illusionist

My latest blog for FilmInk about films at the Sydney Film Festival.

Who says actions don't speak louder than words? Sylvain Chomet follows up his unique and brilliant feature, The Triplets Of Belleville, with another quirky animated triumph, The Illusionist, and continues his tradition of having little to no dialogue throughout the entire film. Much like the film which preceded it, The Illusionist is adorable, humorous and at times very emotionally moving. However what separates the two is The Illusionist's curious inability to ever fully engage the audience.

Me looking over the number of people who read this blog.

The Illusionist begins with the elderly illusionist waiting in the wings of a rock concert to perform after the show. The theatre is packed with screaming girls more hysterical than a group of twi-hards at a Twilight convention. The slick rock stars twist and gyrate all over the stage and hilariously prance off stage effeminately when the curtain closes, leaving the illusionist to perform. The curtain reopens to find the entire theatre empty except an unenthusiastic elderly lady with her gum-chewing grandson. This opening is indicative of the film's charm and wit, with the movie revolving around the end of an era for the Illusionist and the world he used to belong to. We follow him as he travels throughout Europe looking for a place to call home, meeting many great characters along the way, including a young Scottish girl who follows him but begins to cherish the things he buys her over his company.

"Now I ain't saying she a goldigger..."

The film's greatest achievement is its ability to communicate the story and characters purely through visual means far better than most conventional films do. The caricatures the film paints of humanity are exaggerated but still manage to contain a human truth with regard to how absurd we all really are. There are depths to the characters captured in simple gestures, actions and the way they interact with the world around them, and because of this the absence of dialogue never feels gimmicky.

The Illusionist chooses to travel with the Hogwarts express.

Whilst still being a truly unique and compelling film, The Illusionist doesn't feel quite satisfying once the credits roll. This is perhaps due to the lack of an over-arching plot, instead the characters just drift from one scene to the next so their wants and needs aren't as easily communicated. This wouldn't be a problem if the film had a pay-off, but The Illusionist seems to be building toward something truly magnificent and profound but then the credits pop up to disappoint the audience. It's disappoining that this delightful film is over but also because it just fell short of being outstanding.

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