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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

entry arrow3:55 AM | The Existence of Magicians

You may be forgiven for thinking Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist [2010] is an easy film to take and digest. It's animated after all -- such wonderful, painstaking attention to detail! -- but like the Hayao Miyazaki films it mirrors in style and complex sensibility (albeit with French quirkiness and art nouveau flourish), there is an underlying darkness that embraces it, even if our expectations always seem to propel us to believe that there will be goodness and gaiety after this scene, or that scene, or this scene... Sure, it is a charming film, beautiful to behold even, but it's ultimately a sad film, something that verges on the cynical -- and never once did it make me break into a smile, although once in a while it made me sigh over a few bumbling details that provide the much-needed comic relief. For example, the sight of the clown, sans make-up, devouring a bowl of soup -- after a botched suicide attempt. Or the sight of the fat bunny eating sausages -- after we have been led to believe it has been butchered and stewed for dinner. But I am making this sound more morbid than it really is. Because if there is one thing The Illusionist is not, it's morbid. It's beautiful, it's enchanting. It is the story of a down-and-out magician in Paris -- patterned in mime-like muteness and bumbling dress after the late great French director Jacques Tati whose unproduced screenplay provides the story for this film. He's getting older and can't find bookings, and so he finds himself crossing the English Channel seeking measly work in one theater and the next. In one Scottish town, he comes across a cleaning girl who takes a liking to him as a father-figure who carries with him "real magic" -- magic that can sweep her away from such a humdrum existence into the pulse and energy of the big cities. He pities her and buys her a new pair of shoes, and soon enough she takes that as an invitation and follows him in his travels. Perhaps he is grateful for the company. He is lonely, and has no one else in his sad life. The rest of the film is the roller coaster of their life together spent in hotel rooms. But this is no charmed story about an old magician transformed by a girl who believes in him. No, not at all. This is a story about pretensions, money-grubbing illusions, social climbing, dashed hopes, misguided kindness, and biting bunnies -- but what can we expect from the director who gave us The Triplets of Belleville [2003]? That final note the magician gives the girl is a devastating coda that underlines the ironic tone this beautiful film is really all about. But life goes on, we learn, even if it is stripped of beautiful illusions.

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