The Illusionist (2010)
Grade: A- | 1st Viewing
Based on an unfilmed script by French auteur Jacques Tati, Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist strikes a perfect balance between quite hilarious and truly sad. The story follows an aging magician whose sleight of hand act is constantly overshadowed by young rock stars and more modern acts in London and Paris of the 1950s. He finds success in a remote Scottish village where the locals are less exposed to technology and more enamored by the magician’s tricks. A young girl from the village stows away with him and the two form a friendship that is at times romantic and at others familial.
I am not entirely familiar with the films of Jacques Tati, so I am not able to use the most obvious comparison. However, thematically there was a number of similarities with Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid with numerous visual gags and a heartwarming central relationship. The characters never really speak to one another in any coherent language, so in that sense it is like a silent film. It is visually arresting and has an ending that is truly sad. See it as an animated alternative to Cars 2 this weekend.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Grade: A | 3rd Viewing
I wanted to watch Before Sunset because I know it is set in Paris and I wanted to reminisce on my trip, but I thought I had better re-watch Before Sunrise first as a set-up. It is always a pleasure to revisit Jesse and Celine and join their cerebral discovery of love and existentialism. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise is definitely one of the smartest romantic films made in at least the last 20 years and it offers themes so layered and complex that they are a pleasure to re-discover numerous times.
I also enjoy how the film is a love letter to Vienna, another beautiful European city. From the street poet who composes an on-the-spot sonnet to the majestic historical settings, the characters seem to discover a part of Europe in their 24-hour stay that most tourists never see. This is a movie that is not about where the characters go, but the conversations they have along the way and the individual moments that they inhabit. Moments that are a joy to rediscover time and again.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Grade: A | 1st Viewing
The beautiful thing about a movie like The Tree of Life (and why it is so difficult to review) is that it examines such profound cosmic questions that everybody will interpret it differently. I am very glad that I went back and watched all of Malick’s films before seeing The Tree of Life, because it is his least accessible effort and also represents a culmination of all the questions he has been grappling with. It is a deeply moving masterpiece – operatic in scope yet fine-tuned to the most minute detail.
One of the themes that I most identified with was its presentation of that pivotal moment in a child’s life when they stop viewing their parents as a deity. Brad Pitt represents the Old Testament God, vengeful and penitent, and Jessica Chastain represents the New Testament God, forgiving and graceful. The boy has to reject both of his parents in order to see the value in their qualities and their ability to give life. It also shows the existence of free will which is a cosmic idea that is perfectly exhibited through the individual. This theme was enriched by excellent moments like the mother giving water to an inmate and the father forcing his son to fight. It was also the theme that I felt justified the existence of Sean Penn in the movie.
There is so much to see and learn about this movie and I cannot wait to see it again.