With his combination of physical comedy, sentiment and social critique, Jacques Tati is often regarded as the French Charlie Chaplin. The Illusionist is an animated feature based on an unproduced script Tati wrote in 1956 about a magician struggling to find work in an age when pop music has become the dominant form of entertainment. Eventually arriving in Edinburgh with an impressionable Scottish girl and an angry rabbit as his companions, he encounters other forgotten vaudeville performers making one last attempt to practise their craft.
Director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) brings Tati’s persona to life beautifully in the character of the magician, capturing his awkward physicality and the way he never seems to fit into the modern world. Less a playful critique of modernity, as found in Tati’s films Mon Oncle and Play Time, The Illusionist is more a lamentation for the end of the music hall era. Funny, sweet, nostalgic and ultimately heartbreaking, it is a gorgeous tribute to Tati that he no doubt would have loved.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 386, 2011