The many fans of the uniquely droll 2003 animation Oscar nominee The Triplets of Belleville will recognize the inventive hand-drawn sensibilities of French filmmaker Sylvain Chomet in his loving and lovely new feature The Illusionist (in theaters Dec. 25). The title conjurer is an aging old-time French variety-show magician, unsuccessfully peddling his timeworn stage act in the late 1950s to audiences more interested in twist-and-shout rock-&-roll bands. The simple, emotionally potent story — a semi-silent film, in which linguistic gibberish is universally understood — follows the faded showman on a desperate-for-work tour of Scotland. There he falls into the delicate role of a protective father figure to Alice, a young, wide-eyed naïf for whom the magic looks fresh and real. He grows older; she grows up.
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