Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Illusionist (2010)

The Illusionist (2010)
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

I knew I wanted to see The Illusionist with Andrea because she adores all things French. She can speak the language fluently (as well as 24 others), she's been to Paris and other places in France, she once dated a Frenchman - it's an inherent part of her personality. Plus, with all the snow we've gotten here in New York over the past six weeks or so, I hadn't seen her in awhile.

I met her in Times Square for the train ride out to Queens. She was forty-five minutes late. I forget the reason she gave. This is not the first time she's arrived late whenever we hung out, but I can never stay mad about it for very long because she's always worth waiting for. We resolved to go to the next show time and had an early dinner at the diner down the street from the Kew Gardens.

This was, I think, her first time in the neighborhood, a quiet residential one with comfortable middle-class homes. One of the remarkable things about her is the way she notices things most people take for granted. Walking from the train station, she noticed the facade on a brick apartment building - a frieze of drapery on a slab of concrete. Nothing special, I thought, but she found it noteworthy enough to mention because she hadn't seen it before. She pointed out other buildings and houses in similar fashions. Little things, stuff I'd look at once and likely not think twice about it.

At the diner, the conversation turned to music at one point, and all of a sudden we found ourselves singing oldies tunes. (The place was mostly empty, not that it mattered, I think.) Now even though my sister is the singer in the family, I've been known to belt out a song or two in public before. I like to think I can carry a tune, but whenever I'm singing along with friends I'm less interested in how I sound and as a result I tend to pay less attention to basic things like pitch and tone. It's a bit like Ryan Gosling's character in Blue Valentine when he sings to Michelle Williams - he can only sing silly.

Heading back towards the theater, we walked past a Russian grocery store, although Andrea wasn't certain it was Russian based on the signs on the window, and decided she absolutely had to go inside and find out for sure. So we did. She was practically spellbound by the array of foodstuffs in packages written in Eastern European languages. Behind the counter, there was an old lady and some other dude. A television overhead played a Russian soap opera. Andrea chatted up the old lady a bit, confirming that the store was indeed, Russian. The old lady seemed to be a bit standoffish, but either Andrea didn't notice or didn't mind. She ended up buying a loaf of sliced Latvian rye bread (made in Brooklyn).

As for the movie, it wasn't bad, though I liked Sylvain Chomet's previous film, The Triplets of Belleville, better. When I came home I saw a review of The Illusionist at another site I regularly visit, Film Forager, in which the point was raised that the little girl, Alice, was underdeveloped and came across a bit selfish, which I agreed with. Andrea saw it as more the impetuousness of her youth mixed with her fervent desire to leave her life in the sticks and run away with Tatischeff. Having her along in the near-empty theater was helpful in that she understood French words that would've gone over my head. There's very little in the way of actual dialogue in The Illusionist, just snippets of lines here and there in different languages, not just French, and to me it didn't do much to illuminate Alice's character.

I recently "liked" the Kew Gardens on Facebook. I can't believe I didn't do this sooner. Apparently they offer all sorts of deals and contests and stuff. I'll have to take advantage of this sometime soon. And I'm not the only film blogger who likes the theater, either. To think I was worried about the popularity of this place!


  1. Great story! I really need to see "The Illusionist" - I loved "Triplets" and I was really looking forward to see what Chomet came up with next.

  2. It's different from 'Triplets' - where that movie was bouncy and lively, this is more bittersweet and somber. I think my problem was that I went in expecting 'Illusionist' to be like 'Triplets' and it isn't.

  3. And I expected the film to include the normal amount of French dialogue one would expect of French cinema and was disappointed to learn that it doesn't. Still, I enjoyed _The Illusionist_ and have a feeling it's destined to become a classic.

    And, speaking of dialogue, it's amazing how little of it there is. It is a great strength of _The Illusionist_ that the storyline is so easy to follow, despite the dearth of conversation.

  4. If you liked it, you oughta check out the director's other film, 'The Triplets of Belleville.'

  5. The girl was pretty inconsistant, although I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to the fact that, based off her apparently sheltered and naive life until that point, her logic must've dictated that the illusionist was really magic, and he was producing all those clothes out of thin air.

    And I couldn't tell, was she speaking Gaelic?

  6. That was originally my thought, that Alice believed Tatischeff was making real magic - and the note he leaves her at the end would seem to corroborate this theory.

    I have no idea what Gaelic even sounds like.


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