Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Illusionist

I recently went to see The Illusionist. No, not the one with Edward Norton that was vaguely disappointing.

I hadn't really noticed how CGI and Pixar style animation had taken over so completely, and just how different it is from hand-drawn. It's smoothness, the somehow homogenous quality of every film, despite the different plots, subjects, settings.

This Illusionist is an animation of the old school brigade and it's a delight. Hand-drawn and beautifully imperfect. Intricate, drawings that stemmed from obsessive observation, it seemed all the better able to reflect its human subjects and their own imperfections.

Is one better than the other?  I don't think it's about being 'better', I think it's about appreciating the differences, and not losing the old in our rush to embrace the new.

The Illusionist is, on the face of it, a simple tale of an old French variety show magician who travels to Scotland to ply his trade. What it's also about is the naiveté of youth, and on the other side of the coin, hope in the face of experience, that despite all the signs pointing to the contrary, a big break's just around the corner.

Sounds gloomy? But it's not, it's sweet, warm, compassionate and funny. Poking fun at itself, at the cheesiness of variety acts and the eccentricity of one's neighbours. You get all of this in faded washes of colour, sweeping landscapes, intimate domestic scenes, and an ever present musical score. The score is the script, it tells you what the characters are thinking and feeling, and the sparse use of mumbled French or Gaelic is the punctuation.

If you get a chance, go see it. I don't think it's going to be around for long, and something about being ensconced in the warm, popcorn sticky cinema air makes it all the more charming.  It's like a toffee caress, and the bright modern light you step into when you leave contrasts with a lemon sharpness.

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