The Illusionist (L’illusionniste) (2010) | Review by Mark Leidner
That visual fictions can wormhole us to places of emotional fact is no proof of God, but it is cause for marvel. How is it that of all the movies of last year, only Toy Story 3 put tears up in my eyes for its characters? I think Scott McCloud points to a smiley face in some essay on comics and says that because cartoons are more general representations of people, people project their own specific psychologies into them. Wes Anderson gems help illustrate the point that hyperstylized characters and scenes, when bulldozed forward by a powerful narrative, by virtue of being visually distant from our experiences, push our psyches into vortices of content no camera can see. Eschewers of realist mise-en-scène who nonetheless model a realism of desire with plot can re-thread viewers’ gazes through a continually blooming interior. The Illusionist (L’illusionniste) features an aging magician who wanders postwar Europe struggling to compete with the escalatingly realer illusions of more modern forms of entertainment. Eventually playing a Scottish backwater so isolated that, to the kilted hicks there, his stiff shtick is a hit, the hoary mime cum sleight-of-handist attracts the attention of a teenage stowaway with whom he eventually settles in Edinburgh, maintaining a stoic intimacy exactly as non-interesting as it is non-Nabokovian.
This sad, boring French-feeling… affair… was okay, but it was ultimately too pretty, and taught me that all the good drawing in the world can’t bucket up emotion from an undramatic well. When suspense was present, I felt a bittersweet regard for our hero and heroine. At the end, the defeated showman abandons his naïf and goes home, leaving her only a bouquet and a note that says, “Magicians do not exist.” This moment of honesty and sadness made me think of my own endlessly pathetic performances; their spectacle…their impotence… But most scenes were not so shot through with conflict or truth, and served foremost to showcase the nostalgic sensibilities and talents of the animators. When that was happening I did like it for a few seconds, but then my eyes glazed over and I thought about the shittiness of the popcorn at Pleasant Street Theater (Northampton MA). Pleasant Street also gives you no ice in your drink; there are no cup holders; the chairs are hard; sometimes the sound sounds like it’s being sieved into the theater through busted laptop speakers. More like Unpleasant Street! I do not want to think these things, indie cinema. So keep animating quirky crap, but work harder to cut it with the cocaine of pure suspense, so I can pour my consciousness into your pictures.