Every day,Ā Watch ThisĀ offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week:Ā The IncredibleĀ Burt Wonderstone has us thinking about other films about magicians.

The Illusionist
(2010)Ā 
The magician in Sylvain Chometā€™s animated adaptation of Jacques Tatiā€™s screenplay The Illusionist is a kindly, bumbling man who looks and acts a lot like Tatiā€™s signature character, M. Hulot. That nod to Tatiā€”which extends to the magicianā€™s name, Tatischeff, which was Tatiā€™s birth nameā€”isnā€™t just about paying homage to the legendary French filmmaker and comedian. The Illusionist is set in the U.K. in the 1960s, and is partly about how Tatiā€™s style of genteel entertainment fell out of favor. The film is episodic, showing the illusionist Tatischeff dealing with technical snafus, indifferent audiences, and a new breed of performers more suited than he to the faster pace and scientific wonders of the space age. When Tatischeff encounters a wide-eyed fan, he tries to convince her he still has some magic left, and the film tries to do the same, in scenes and images that reference the generation of mid-20th-century filmmakers who explored the mediumā€™s capacity for spellcasting.

Chomet (The Triplets Of Belleville) and his team of animators at Django Films tell this story in little setpieces, often built around magic tricks, which donā€™t always translate well to animation. But Chomet shows some healthy skepticism toward the art of magic in general, and what it really means. The Illusionist is filled with pretenses both grand and petty: a snowstorm thatā€™s really a flurry of feathers, macho rock musicians who are secretly gay, the false promises of billboards and window displays, and so on. The story also ends on a melancholy, ambiguous note, with disenchantment and new hope jumbled together. In the end, Tati and Chomet are saying something complex but true, testifying to the necessity of fakery while acknowledging that illusions can be cruel.

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Availability: The Illusionist is available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack from Sony Pictures Classics, and available for download from multiple retailers.

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