Set in the late 1950s, L'Illusioniste follows a magician as he struggles to remain relevant in an age of rock music and cinema. His desire to secure work brings him out of France and to rural Scotland, where he meets a young girl who bcomes convinced he is truly magic. She follows him to Edinburgh and their consequent adventures reveal a tender, father-daughter relationship, even as the magic that brought them together fades away.
L'Illusioniste is directed by Sylvain Chomet (Triplets of Belleville) and is based on an unpublished script by Jacques Tati, whom the main character closely resembles. The script was meant to be a way to reconcile the differences between him and his estranged daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel. While the script has remained unpublished for over 50 years, the story is still relevant and touching.
The traditional animation used in L'Illusioniste is a poignant choice and provides a modern reflection for the nostalgia prevalent in the film. More and more, flashy 3D CGI animation seems to be replacing hand-drawn illustrations. While there's nothing inherently wrong with the shift, there is a quaint charm captured by traditional animation that can not be captured by digital techniques. This effect lends itself very well to the L'Illusioniste and its theme of discarded icons of entertainment struggling to remain relevant within the context of emerging forms.
The semi-silent aspect of the film makes the story more benign than it otherwise might be. While L'Illusioniste is ultimately a very touching story, it is studded with some truly depressing and melancholic scenes. One of the most heart wrenching moments chronicles an alcoholic clown contemplating suicide. While such scenes are poignant, they are not overwrought. The semi-silent style of the movie also makes the film accessible to those who don't speak French, Gaelic or English.
Ultimately, L'Illusioniste is exquisitely emotional in a gentle way-- a movie for a world that does not care to believe that magicians exist.