The 64th Edinburgh International Film Festival got under way last night with the UK premiere of The Illusionist, the latest offering from Oscar-nominated director Sylvain Chomet. Having previously hosted premieres such as Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction and The Hurt Locker, the EIFF continues to attract scores of cinephiles from all over the world and this year’s festival promises to be as memorable as ever.
Set in the Scottish capital, Chomet’s animation provided the perfect introduction to a twelve day programme of British and international cinema. The story revolves around a down-and-out magician who is forced to leave his native Paris in search of work on the other side of the channel. He inevitably begins his journey in London, only to find that as in France, illusionists are rapidly becoming an endangered species. The day of the music hall magician is coming to an end and the star of the foppish musician is in the ascendant. Disheartened, the weary entertainer gets back on the train and heads north to a remote Scottish village where he is welcomed as a hero. Whilst there, he meets a young girl called Alice who is so entranced by this mysterious stranger that she secretly follows him to Edinburgh. The two strike up a sort of father-daughter relationship in spite of the fact that they do not share a lingua franca.
The film is so spectacular to look at that it becomes all too easy to ignore the story itself. Yet behind its seemingly straightforward plot, The Illusionist deals with issues such as immigration and language. Unable to speak English, the protagonist communicates through his trade: entertainment, be it magic or film, provides a means of bridging the barriers of language.
I found The Illusionist to be an utterly charming tribute to Chomet’s adopted home, beautifully animated and refreshingly two dimensional in a post-Avatar world. The director somehow manages to capture the unique Edinburgh sunlight and with it, all that is special about the city. This is a film tinted with nostalgia and melancholy but above all, a love of Scotland.
Watch this space for the latest news and reviews from EIFF 2010!