End-tune (no spoilers – but give a feel) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG_CPNQdc7w
I re-watched The Illusionist with my friend this evening, and she commented on how greedy the girl comes across as. When I first saw the movie, I had not thought about her in this way – I just rolled with the idea of an innocent country girl thinking magic could solve all problems. Furthermore, I knew nothing about the comedian Jacques Tati himself, the man who wrote the screenplay, and it seems the 2010 film caused quite a rucus. See Wikipedia for details.
The film centres around a Parisian rabbit-out-of-a-hat illusionist, by the stage name of Tatischeff (Jacques Tati’s real surname) who, seeing his trade’s popularity decline in the face of star musicians and divas, emigrates to Britain to seek a new opportunities, only to find himself traveling to a Scottish village where he befriends the local cleaning girl (Alice) who thinks he actually magically produces items out of thin air, such as renewing her bar of soap, and making coins appear out from behind her ear.
She follows him, against his initial intent, to Edinburgh where she continues to think he can magically and freely grant her wishes for more sophisticated apparel, and repeatedly requests for the most lavish adornments. Tatischeff obliges, though always masking, as he did back in the Scottish village, how he actually came across the items. To her it is purely magic ex nihilo; to him, it is his livelihood going up in smoke, but he continues to be unwilling to break the illusion for her.
[SPOILER ALERT] below, I will discuss the ending of the movie. Go to “END OF SPOILERS” if you want to skip.
Not finding any earnings in illusionist shows, Tatischeff tries to find basic employment to make ends meet, accepting even employment he finds demeaning to his person, whilst still keeping Alice from knowing the true provenance of ever more items for her contentment. Alice in the mean time, oblivious to her protector’s plight, busies herself cleaning and cooking, before donning her unknowingly ill-gotten apparel to see the town, now as the lady she feels she has become. Whilst in town with a boy she meets by chance, she innocently tries (and fails) to buy a necklace with a single coin she got from Tatischeff, demonstrating how utterly she misunderstood the value of money.
In the end, Tatischeff realizes that the illusion he has fed has not served either of them; he frees his rabbit to the wild and takes a train out of town. He leaves a note for Alice, with a considerable amount of money, stating simply “Magicians do not exist.”
As she looks out of the window to a rainy Edinburgh, Alice realizes (I believe) the wrong she has done to her paternalistic friend, and as she re-meets with her recently encountered boyfriend, she remains sullen and hardly responsive. Meanwhile on the train, Tatischeff starts to make a little girl’s lost pencil re-appear, but when he nearly gives her his own, otherwise identical, longer pencil in place of her old short one, he thinks again and “magically” returns her worn pencil – he has learned that giving new items for free under the guise of magic may not be in anyone’s best interests.
This is the final scene of the film, that I have just discussed. SPOILER. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HknsRka0on0
[END OF SPOILERS]
Some critics have attacked the film for being insubstantial, and a watering down of Tati’s genius. For those who have good knowledge of Tati’s work, maybe that is so. For my part, I approach the movie as one who has experienced French culture (having grown up there in my adolescence) and who has lived in Edinburgh to this date for five years. It does not rely on the Hollywoodian excitement of a frequently bounding storyline – it is more tempered, more concerned with the characters, and the relationship between the two main protagonists; between the well-meaning but ultimately clueless Illusionist, and the sweet and inexperienced yet overtly needy country lass in the city.
The movie presents a beautiful rendition of the city of Edinburgh, and anyone who has lived there will be able to confirm the accuracy of the portrayals – the artists have done a magnificent job of scouting out the town. Familiars of the town will feel that they do not really know the place, or they will want to revisit the areas so many people have walked by, but never stopped to admire. This is a film for those who are concerned with watching people and observing places, rather than simply being told tales.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
— W. H. Davies
I see the presentation as a highly poetic display of Edinburgh on its brightest days, and melancholically nostalgic on its rainiest; as a bitter-sweet description of how generosity can be mis-applied; as a poetic apology and explanation of mistakes we may all make in life in misguided youth, and in doting old age.
Having now read a few articles and reviews, I presently understand that the original screenplay (set in then Czechoslovakia) was an apologia to Tati’s estranged illegitimate daughter, and we can see in the relationship between Tatischeff and Alice a very naive father-daughter relationship: a father who will do anything to keep his daughter’s dream alive, and a daughter, oblivious to truths of life, simply asking for presents – and seeing her wishes granted, asks for more, as any child unfettered by knowledge of limitations would.
In the end, this film portrays for me what happens should a disconnect between two persons views of reality is not matched and confronted: both of them gave what they honestly thought was appropriate, but neither gave what was needed – Truth from Tatischeff, and Restraint from Alice.