{comics} exquisite corpse

Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu

originally: Cadavre exquis (Gallimard 2010)

ARC via Netgalley w/ free and fairly regarded gratitude to First Second Books. Anticipate their English translation (by Alexis Siegel): May 2015.

Zoe isn’t exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn’t recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment…and into his life.

Zoe doesn’t know Balzac from Batman, but she’s going to have to wise up fast…because Rocher has a terrible secret, and now Zoe is sitting on the literary scandal of the century.–Publisher’s copy.

Zoe is an amusing protagonist because she is atypical in literature; which is to say, she is strikingly familiar.

The translation from the French is good—not only of text, but of situation. Zoe is appropriately rendered as the wide-eyed young woman who desires more for her life. She is objectified on the job and lives with a loser of a man/lover. What she lacks in education/sophistication, she makes up for it in fortunate meetings. Two cute-meets later, Zoe finds herself where she couldn’t have imagined, yet proving she has the wiles to pull it off.

The rhythm or lack of artful transitions took some adjustment, but it suits the no-nonsense characterization; melodramatics are foiled. The brief leaps through time and the presence of those life-changing (plot-turning) meetings support the multiple meaning of the title. You’ve corpse (the dead) that is multiply “exquisite” (see OED), and you’ve “exquisite corpse:” a story created collectively. Perhaps you’ve played the game where, say, I would begin the story, the next person would add, and the third, and the fourth around a circle or in a zig-zag… Exquisite corpse is a form that removes the notion of storytelling as being a solitary act. Exquisite Corpse reminds us of the same. The publishing world involves critics and publicists and editors and readers/consumers, cover designers, the muse, etc. A book/story becomes the property of more than one individual person.

Where the “dead” writer is not without ego, Zoe actually is—she cannot afford one. Okay, there is the confidence of her youth and sexuality. Her “not exactly an intellectual type” antics makes her difficult to deal with at first, but her earnestness wins over the end. Yet however sassy and daring she is established as, is she ever more than just a body with its bundle of desires and desirability? A device… and is this a bad thing at all for the protagonist to be (can they be anything else?). I digress into my degree. I was as wonderfully entertained in a lighter reading; Bagieu’s work is capable of a great deal.

The bold color palette and black inked line work is placed in basic panel-layouts. Exquisite Corpse is deceptively simple (not unlike its protagonist and the relationships therein). Cool ghostly tones mark Zoe’s initial interactions with Tom. Is he a ghost? Yet as we learn more about Tom, the cool tones remark upon his characterization in another way.

Exquisite Corpse is accessible comic work. And I had to appreciate the decision to tell this particular tale in the comic medium versus the short story. The novel is a conversation on the high brow versus low (as well as privilege, choice, selfish desire, economics). And it is (all) couched in a humorous story I feel the Europeans really excel in telling. This European novel’s sensibility, sense of humor, and its twist are well suited for American audiences.

Pénélope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse is both entertaining and thought-provoking. In the end, I suppose I should just say Exquisite Corpse is quite the provocative graphic novel for readers of comics or no.


recommendations: Lit majors/literati; it is for those frustrated with the celebration/privilege of the Dead White Guy in Literature; it is also for those interested in a nice female graphic-fiction departure from the memoir.

"review" · Children's · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

{comic} revealed

Hidden : A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

Written by Loïc Dauvillier; Illustrated by Marc Lizano

Color by Greg Salsedo; Translated from the French by Alexis Siegel

First Second Books, 2014.

Ages 6-10; Grades 1-5.

 Encouraged to talk about her evident sadness, a grandmother shares her memories long hidden about her experience as a child in 1942 Paris. Opening in the late hours of evening (the dark) in the privacy of a home, steeped in themes of hiding and silence, the novel will eventually affect a catharsis that moves the reader to compassion and tears. And yet, it will be a story the reader will loathe to tuck away and forget.

The continual exchange between grandmother and granddaughter Elsa escapes the contrived as the young Elsa struggles to understand how a young Dounia Cohen’s life is upended by the horror of a mass eradication of Jews in Paris. Elsa alongside Dounia wonders at the lies adults will tell, the sudden cruelty of her neighbors or their heroics, the loss of a parent, the importance of a courageous community. The gently told story does not skirt the horror and sorrow. The portrayal of the injustice Jews and their sympathizers faced honors the intellect of a grade-schooler. The sequences are those Hidden’s young audience would understand, the fear and heartache of losing their parents, schoolroom humiliations, inexplicable displays public violence… They will find contemporary relevance in subjects of honesty, loyalty, identity, bullying, and loss. I was struck by how contemporary the novel makes the holocaust–how present. I was moved by the silence after that final narrative line at the bottom of page 68; how its said into the quiet; how Elsa sleeps in innocence.

One of the marvels of Diary of Anne Frank is how the reader connects with her youth. Elsa’s sympathies reflect her youthful audience. Dounia as young and old help them cope. She is the wise grandmother and the child witness. She shows fear and regret and incredible courage. The story reinforces what is right and good without the heavy-handed messaging.

Dauvillier understands the power of the oral historian in couching his story. He creates a connection to the present and the past not only through a framework and a paced movement from one to the other, but in reemphasizing the connections visually. Elsa is the unfreckled version of her grandmother when young. And while the story is told, Elsa is safe in the arms of the older Dounia/Simone. Hidden closes out of doors in the daylight in a tender exchange of reconciliation that forgives the silence and celebrates sharing the unspeakable.

I admit to being uncertain about the art when the book first came out, and I did find following the text a bit tricky at first. I appreciate, however, the accessibility of the cartoon work. Lizano manages the expressive without unbalancing the gentility in the narrative. He provides meaningful settings even when the image shouldn’t be rendered in anything more than words. He provides meaningful renderings when the language for child-audiences are inadequate. A lot of frames are close-ups, emphasizing subjectivity and a sympathy with the character and situation. The viewer is just as often cast as an observer of distances and emptiness, of the foreign. Lizano and Salsedo are fearless with darkening tints and shadows.


I was deeply impressed by Hidden. It approaches a difficult narrative with a caution that does not underestimate its young readership*. It leaves an impression that is empowering and interventionist, rather than crippling—an impression not only meant for the youngest of us.

Hidden would be a great graphic novel for intergenerational story time, and I shouldn’t think it only for educational venues or historic commemorations. Put this one on the any-day shelf.


*something I see more in translated European texts.

{images belong to Marc Lizano}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · wondermous

{comics} good literature

janefoxmecoverJane, the Fox & Me

by Fanny Britt, and artist Isabelle Arsenault

translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Groundwood Books, 2013.

orig. Jane, le renard & moi (Les Éditions de La Pastèque, 2012)

Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies — Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to allow her to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.–publisher’s comments.

Jane, the Fox & Me is simply stunning. I spent a long quiet moment after closing the book and muttering a ‘damn.’ Naturally, I think we should all now experience this graphic novel.

janefox1Isabelle Arsenault illustrates Hélène’s life in pencil; black and white overlay a depressing tonal grey. Hélène has not only been isolated but she is being brutally tormented. The insults written on walls, like her weighing 216, increase in her mind to 316 and more as the story progresses. However, contrary to what she tells her mother near the end, that she exaggerates, is dramatic, the story disallows us to believe all of what Hélène is confronted with is a figment of her imagination.

Her obesity is imagined. Arsenault does not depict even a mildly overweight girl. A problem that accompanies what seems real versus imagined is trying to negotiate what is normal–and how to negotiate conflict. It is horribly tense, anticipating Hélène’s school trip away for a couple of days, but there is the lovely reference to Jane Eyre just then…and the opportunity to see other students implement Hélène’s strategy for dealing with inevitable awkward moments like tent assignments.


The inclusions of Jane Eyre are beautifully done, in both the narrative Fanny Britt creates and the illustrations by Arsenault. Like Hélène, I, too, found myself preferring to linger in Brontë’s world where the aesthetic allows for lush color-work (gouache, watercolor), brushwork and a shift in a gentler drawing style. The foliage, vibrant with life, does begin to seep into Hélène’s world, though yet to find color. As with the book she is reading, she hides here in the foliage, too, aggrieved. Hélène figures that if Jane can overcome the tribulations of her youth to “grow up to be clever, slender and wise anyway” (16), surely she can as well. Even once she is grown, Jane has difficulties and Hélène wisely observes that “everyone needs a strategy, even Jane Eyre” (53). It is a subtle realization of the book that the reader needn’t be left imagining that Hélène will eventually become ‘clever, slender, and wise’ herself. She begins to demonstrate these future moments here and there as the book makes its way.

JaneFoxMe5“Its eyes are so kind I just about burst./That same look in another human’s eyes, and my soul would be theirs for sure.” note, how much this close up of Hélène looks like the young Jane.


For all the angst of shifting relationships with others and self, there are amusements to be found. Britt and Arsenault shift from of harsher lights into the lyrical; tempering, too, the lyrical with the serious study of their Hélène, her Jane, and her fox.  The fox…wow–the ways in which we internalize the metaphor, and not just other people’s ways of seeing us! Jane, the Fox & Me has some amazing narrative texture. Note how Britt incorporates the quotes of what was written on the walls into the sentence of the speaker. When we often label a narrator such as Hélène unreliable, rarely do we question what causes her to be so. Britt forces the question of what creates the narrative presented to us in Hélène’s voice. What words and ideas begin to compete and crowd-out (both literally in the visual text and figuratively) the negative commentary at the beginning?


Literati’s will appreciate Hélène’s refuge in books, finding their empathic nature well-depicted in Jane, the Fox & Me. It is nice how the mother looks to music. Neither is the conversation on clothing frivolous; that effort to find expression/identity.

Jane, the Fox & Me is neither heavy in text nor incomprehensible in its visual sequences. I cannot attest for the text in its original language, but the translations create a successful telling of Hélène’s story. As the seasons change and Hélène grows (again both literally and figuratively), things get better for our protagonist, and the reader perceives new lessons on the horizon for our growing-up girl. Though Jane Eyre is finished by the reader, Jane’s return to Mr. Rochester have yet the opportunity to make sense to the young Hélène.


Britt and Arsenault achieve so much in 101 pages. Jane, the Fox & Me is a richly textured and engrossing story that tells all too familiar stories of the relationships so many of us find in the world, our home, our selves…and our books. I only touched on a few things. I restrained from going on about the urban and nature, of fantasy and reality…or fox lore. It is something to experience for yourself.

Jane, the Fox & Me is absolutely beautiful… and to be gifted simply. Please, do not assault a young reader with “the edification of this read” or in the company of a lesson plan on bullying or eating disorders or alienation or poverty, etc.  Jane, the Fox & Me is why artful storytelling matters. It can stand on its own and in conversations. If anything, pair it with a meaningful piece of classic literature or a trip to a nature preserve…


recommendations: if not already noted: girls, boys, grade-school upwards. for those who love the color orange. it’s great to be read by each if not together, though probably not too close to bathing-suit purchases. there are strategies you know.

of note: we’ll be visiting Arsenault’s work again during picture book month–which I think will happen more Summer than Fall.

{images belong to Isabelle Arsenault}


Brain Pickings‘ Maria Popova’s excellent review which includes more pictures (if you don’t mind being a bit spoiled) and this gorgeous summation: “Jane, the Fox & Me is an absolute treasure that blends the realities of children’s capacity to be cruel, the possibilities of transcending our own psychological traps, and literature’s power to nourish, comfort, and transform.”


"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend · series

meet annelore parot’s kokeshi

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Twenty-Four: Kokeshi Kimonos Book 

by Annelore Parot

Chronicle Books, 2011.

kokeshi_kimonos_1“With a padded cover and slickly designed pages, this interactive book introduces traditional kokeshi dolls, popular in Japan. Rendered in manga style, the dolls wear kimonos; readers are invited to help one kokeshi select her kimono, assist another as she samples new hairstyles, and lift flaps to locate another kokeshi’s apartment. With a clean aesthetic and diminutive animal friends throughout, it provides an insider’s view into a gentle world of dress up. All ages. (Sept.)” Publishers Weekly

Browsing the shelves, it wasn’t only that Kimonos was faced outward, but it stood out. You can guess why…and it isn’t only because my eye is drawn to red. Once I had it in hand, I knew it was coming home with me. I love these interactive books. And well, I do love pretty things. Kimonos is pretty. Annelore Parot, is not afraid of color and patterns. Her choices alone recommend a lingering look, but most of the activities require an attention to details.


There are games of differentiation and matching and memory. There are lifting flaps and turning of pages that engage the reader/listener interact in the layering of the story. The educational quality includes translations of Japanese words as well as an introduction/exploration of cultural dress and relationships. Playing dress up usually involves a scenario that reflect social/cultural scripts and Parot optimizes this.


{of the bottom image: the two characters in their apartments are who you see when lifting the flap; on the flaps are text.}

We meet different Kokeshi characters in Kimonos, but French author/illustrator Annelore Parot has a series of Kokeshi books and products, Aoki (below) is just one I happened to find on the shelf. There is also a Kokeshi club site. These would have been dangerous for me when Natalya was young.

aoki coverAoiki (a Kokeshi book) by Annelore Parot

Chronicle Books, 2012

“Meet Aoki She may be the smallest Kokeshi, but Aoki’s infectious enthusiasm can make anyone laugh. On her whirlwind trip to Tokyo, she will ride a high-speed train, dance under cherry blossom trees, and visit a zen garden. With sneak-peek flaps, fun die-cuts, and lavish gatefolds, this interactive exploration will enchant Kokeshi fans of all sizes.” –publisher’s comments


aoki interiorThere are even more flaps, memory games, translations, and ways to keep the reader/listener on every page. While Parot constructs a story to follow, it is not so tight that the book couldn’t be picked up or set aside depending on time or interest. It could easily work as a quiet activity book, but I think, like Kimonos, this is one to play with together–because one, it is fun; and two, there is no answer key. This one is good for early grade school. It is doll-play. But even so, use this as an excuse to interact with that lovely child in your life.

{*books are translated into English; images belong to Annelore Parot}

"review" · fiction · foreign · Lit · recommend · Uncategorized

{comic} blue is the warmest color

blue is coverBlue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger

Arsenal Pulp Press, English edition, 2013.

published in France, 2010, by Glenat Editions as Le blue est une couleur chande.

Clementine is a junior in high school who seems “normal” enough: she has friends, family, and the romantic attention of the boys in her school. When her openly gay best friend takes her out on the town, she wanders into a lesbian bar where she encounters Emma: a punkish, confident girl with blue hair. Their attraction is instant and electric, and Clementine find herself in a relationship that will test her friends, parents, and her own ideas about herself and her identity.–publisher’s comments.

*********up to the asterisk line is closer to a reading and will not spoil everything about the story as I do hope you will read this for yourself at some point. After the asterisk, it is closer to “review” form (4 para.) if you desire to begin there.*******

Blue is the Warmest Color begins with a letter being read, cinematically it is a voice-over, “My Love.” The letter introduces Emma to the diaries Clementine (the author of the letter) has kept, but “all of [her] adolescent memories are in the blue one.” Along with letters read and the present-day thoughts from Emma, the blue diary is the source from which flashbacks of Clementine’s coming of age will be drawn. It is with this diary, Emma writes about the color blue, how “Blue has become the warmest color.”

blue is 9781551525136_1.480x480-75

Clementine’s diary takes us back to 1994, aged 15, and her first boyfriend, the one with whom she is unable to return affection.  Clementine’s reluctance is perceived even before the encounter with the girl with the blue-hair upon a street-crossing, but it intensifies afterward. Clementine struggles with this awakening, questioning what is natural and right. She tries only to do that which is expected of her, but she is uncomfortable within her own skin.

Maroh establishes the culture from which Clementine is emerging. Clementine’s outspokenly homophobic mother and just as repulsed father are fearsome. She begins to lose friends by just associating with her new friend, Emma. And they are just friends, Clementine and the blue-haired girl Emma. Emma is in a long-term relationship. She is older, lives on her own, and attends university. She doesn’t realize that Clementine’s longing for her has become painful with the passing of time. And Clementine experiences that age-old conflict: do you risk a friendship to profess your romantic love?

Clementine’s school mate Valentin is able to recognize her anxieties and becomes her lean-to. He helps her to become bolder, fight for herself. But in truth, it is that obsessive impulse (desperation) in love that creates boldness in Clementine.

Clementine and Emma find a more physical expression of their feelings for one another. Emma worries that Clementine is just curious, experimenting, and perhaps a certain audience will wonder the same: sexually confused teen and all that. The sex scene strips that all away. And yet, there are plenty of uncertainties to fuel the verisimilitude that marks the pair’s romance. For one, there is still Emma’s partner, Sabine. Time apart after various misunderstandings. Clementine’s parents.

There are few odd notes in Blue is the Warmest Color. Why, after discussing (post-coital) the phobias of Clementine’s parents, would Emma descend to the kitchen to get a drink—naked? It works rather neatly to punctuate just why Clementine has been so secretive, but it left me shaking my head. Fortunately, Emma’s family is willing to receive Clementine warmly. And here were get a second odd note: a 13 year leap through time. I didn’t expect that when she writes: “I grew up faster than I expected” (130), we would get to experience that same sense of time passing. Atop framed-out panels marking said passage, a nude Clementine (with longer hair, braided) lay in the fetal position. The images support the gestational image, her vulnerability, and the nurturing of a rebirth. And yet, we find that she has yet to come into her own. She still has difficulty becoming comfortable in her own skin.

We learn earlier that Sabine helped introduce Emma to community, to feeling liberated in her body and mind. Clementine emerges from Emma’s embrace differently. Hers is a different story.

 “For Emma, her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social and political thing. For me, it’s the most intimate thing there is. /She calls it cowardice, but all I want is to be happy…/one way or another…/like everyone else” (131).

In the discovery of the other, her lover, Clementine would discover more about herself; by being open to Emma, she becomes open to herself. But the wounds fear inflicts on them individually and together haunt their relationship.



Blue is the Warmest Color is a story of love and betrayal, and of finding one’s way against odds that are both self- and culturally-inflicted. It wends its way from that physical and emotional infatuation, that obsessive longing toward an eloquent and abiding love that is no less passionate, but tempered by the maturity of time. Theirs is a love story.

While Clementine and Emma experience uncertainty and self-doubt at turns, the story begins on a note (a letter) of certainty that that persists. Blue is the Warmest Color demonstrates one of the best uses of the framed narrative. All that occurs in the middle, it is held secure in a knowing.  Emma and Clementine, each imperfect beings, will find their way to this deep understanding and be comforted by it, and so will the reader. Theirs is a true love, even if it is a tragic one. Theirs is a beautiful, hard-won love story we can read again and again.

The Artwork:

You’ll be shocked to find that the color of a warm blue stands out on the page, especially in the ink wash of the flashback/diary. Frames outside of the diary take on color, reds, yellows, greens, but even then the blues seduce the eye. We mind where it is used. I mentioned the overlay of a Clementine’s figure on a progression of framed images (130). She aids in a transition of color, taking on faint tones in her skin and hair while the bottom right frames placing her at age 30 and teaching are colored in. It is a subtle and beautiful transition to mark that unexpected passing of time. Frames are straightforward and text fairly easy to follow, though the squiggle off the speech bubble was sometimes tricky. Neither framing lines nor color differentiate dreams as Clementine finds these lines mutable, Emma ever in her thoughts, arousing her, etc. Maroh evades the fanciful, but strives for the impact realism lends her characters and the subjects that matter.

Aesthetically, the illustrations grew on me, but the artwork was not a first love, and I can’t say I yet am won over to it. I am glad I did not let this get in the way of reading Blue is the Warmest Color. A flip-through will not yield much in the way of story, either through text or image: be fair to you and Blue is and read this one through to avoid misapprehensions. The language a character uses reflects their age and experience, so passionate exclamations will be heard and seen; that said, neither are these moments devalued. These rave reviews, they are responding to the sincerity of the images and encounters. If you have experienced love, actualized or unrequited, brash or completely sane, you will be moved by Maroh’s story, by pages spare of text, yet always touched by that blue, and by a hopeful longing and a sorrow—I love that combination.

Recommendations: Blue is the Warmest Color is for people who love love stories; and I mean stories about real love, the sort that expose flaws and thrives despite them, the sort of story about love where love is built into the imperfections of the characters rather than the perfections of a clean and shiny narrative.


A caution for those of you who may be uncomfortable with nudity and sexual activity in a graphic novel…there is nudity and sexual activity in this graphic novel. It isn’t gratuitous, if that helps.

{Images belong to Julie Maroh}

Children's · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · wondermous · young adult lit

press here

Press Here by Hervé Tullet

Chronicle Books, 2011

Originally published in France in 2010 by Bayard Editions under the title: Un Livre.

Hardcover, Children’s/Juvenile Picture Book—really, for all ages.

Press Here is magical—and a delight for any age. The daughter, who is not only a very cool tween, but a TAG reader of books well-above her age, was seen the other day on the floor of the Library with Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, a rather simple looking pre-school interactive book—at least, that is what I thought when I saw it. We were at the “Lucky Day” shelves of the Juvenile Section. I figured the book had been mistakenly shelved. It may have been, but Natalya was pressing and shaking and blowing across the pages. She insisted I take a turn with the book. And when we got it home, we insisted Sean take his turn as well.

The instructions in the book are simple. “Press here [on the yellow dot] and turn the page,” “Rub the dot on the left…gently,” “Tap the yellow dot 5 times,” “And five taps on the red…” What is marvelous is what happens when you do and turn the page. It is a magic trick. And while you are older and know that you could just flip the page and the change will occur without following instruction, it is more fun to play along; you have a want to suspend yourself in the magic. As Publishers Weekly writes, “The joy is in the tacit agreement between artist and reader that what’s happening is magic.”

The anticipation builds as you progress through the book and are asked to “tilt the page” this way and that, or clap so many times, or try to press on all the yellow dots that are spread out across the two pages.* What wonderfully whimsical thing will occur next? Even on the second or third pass through the book, or even experiencing the book with another, there is a smile, a delighted laugh ready. Press Here is a book you should not miss out on, regardless of age, or perhaps, especially because of your age.


*on the last image (which is 3/4s the double-page) it was fun to watch the solution the person came up with to carry out the instruction. In a video I saw, the children pressed the yellow dots in succession. I spread out all my fingers to push them at the same time, Sean and Natalya used an arm.

noted: “Tullet’s brilliant creation proves that books need not lose out to electronic wizardry; his colorful dots perform every bit as engagingly as any on the screen of an iPad.” Publishers Weekly (April) which is something to get excited about.

"review" · animated · cinema · foreign · recommend · wondermous

[film] L’Illusionniste

Few backdrops are prettier than those found in Sylvain Chomet’s British-French animated film The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste, 2010). I am already planning to re-watch this lovely comedy/drama so as to not have to mind the mostly silent characters’ expressions and gestures; which, admittedly, have a captivation all their own.

Here are links to both Roger Ebert’s Review and NY Times’ Manohla Dargis’ Review “Conjuring a Magical Relationship.” Besides being excellent (as usual), they provide more information behind Sylvain Chomet’s adaptation of The Illusionist and its first creator Jacques Tati—the late French Actor and Filmmaker responsible for Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) and Mon Oncle (1958) among others.

Tati’s daughter Sophie Tatischeff handed Sylvain Chomet (of the remarkable The Triplets of Belleville) the never-produced screenplay Tati wrote in the 1950s (pre-Mr. Hulot). The Illusionist is drawn from the inspiration of Tati’s character Mr. Hulot. Fans note this right away, but those unfamiliar will be intrigued by a late scene where The Illusionist enters a Cinema that is showing Mon Oncle. The sequence is fantastic, so beautiful done. Yes, I think I did clap in absolute delight.

Not understanding the historical situation of Jacques Tati does not harm the film. As Ebert insists (as do others) The Illusionist is a Chomet film, and it does stand on its own legs story-wise. Having viewed the film with only the knowledge that it won a Golden Globe earlier this year, I can easily agree.

The Illusionist is suffering the decline of interest in Magic Shows as the Theaters become packed with screaming female fans mad for boy bands. His failing career moves him from one Theater to the next, one city to the next until he takes a desperate gig in Scotland. He finds a crowd that loves him as well as a young fan Alice that would follow him everywhere, especially after he is mysteriously moved to buy the young woman new shoes.

Between the ragged state of Alice’s boots and her sneaking after him onto a boat south, Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) came to mind. This reminiscence (likely unintentional) was aided by the silent film aspect to The Illusionist. A musical score carries the audience along; and murmurs, the occasional words, are all sound effects that support rather than dominate the film’s ability to tell a story. The result is refreshing and contextually brilliant.

There were a few French words and a few Gaelic mumbles we didn’t understand, and for a moment I thought I should have found subtitles, but I didn’t feel at a loss. Natalya (11) and I could read the film beautifully.

The Illusionist pays for Alice’s tickets and when they arrive in Edinburgh at her request, and he covers their room and board at an ‘extended stay’ where other performance artists are camped: some acrobats, a ventriloquist, and a suicidal clown. When Alice lingers over a coat in a shop window, he purchases it for her. When she sees pretty heels? the same. He even gets a ‘second’ job to support her growing desires, let alone put food on the table. His sacrifices, his humiliations are somewhat painful and I was driven to ask why? Why is helping this blossoming young woman with whom he harbors an awkward affection. Am I that jaded to think, “that’s sweet” isn’t explanation enough. He certainly doesn’t seem so lonely as to need the company, as other performers seem to embody.

The film is deft in creating a platonic relationship between Alice and The Illusionist. She is somewhat in awe of him, and she cares for their rooms, but she is also emerging from girlhood to womanhood, from the rural outliers to urban sophistication. She saw The Illusionist as a way out of her impoverished life—which sounds manipulative in a way for which her naiveté doesn’t seem to account. The Illusionist cannot provide for this girl, though he tries, and it is in the more subtle touches that the explanation for ‘why he even tries’ is revealed. It is in the photograph he lingers over, the one he places on dressing room mirrors and holds while on the train. The one left unfocused and whose revelation comes at the end.

The Illusionist is a terribly melancholy sort of film. The comedy adds the necessary balance to a film that is otherwise completely depressing. There is no place for the Illusionist and his cohorts. He is taken advantage of and robbed and set adrift. He is haunted by a loss. He is inept at practical work, and is mocked during attempts at reinventing the impractical. The young woman’s clumsy attempts to blossom into the sophisticated and romanced conclusion is sweet, but her dependence upon men is an underlying heartache.  Some will find a bit of hopefulness with the ending, with Alice especially. The world that is changing and growing gets better and better for women, we know. I just felt the uncertainty, and sadness.

Alice’s appearance and the subsequent ending felt like a fantasy the Illusionist was able to play out. That he could raise her from obscurity and hopeless repetition and deliver her into the arms of the future where she belongs, is provided for, and loved. Those arms are not his however, he is only temporal. He is old. He is a father. And he is sometimes ill-equipped. He is done before the story plays out, going so far as to hide. He is as confused as the audience members as to when the relationship should end and go its separate ways.

In the train, with the little brunette girl drawing: she loses her pencil and the illusionist is going to ignore her. The scene shifts to an envelope. We return. He picks up the stubby pencil and tucks it and his similar but less used pencil in his sleeve. For a moment you think he will gift the girl a new pencil, magically restore it. But he doesn’t. He returns the pencil they both knew to her. The Illusionist has reached a kind of conclusion. The world has moved on without him. There is little he can do about it. The Illusionist is and has been, for all his fancy, mostly pragmatic.–or was this an attempt to be so?

there is a lot of movement in the film, vehicles and traffic and traveling and such.

The juxtaposition of Illusion and Reality in The Illusionist is marvelously complex. Because there is little dialog to confirm impressions, the audience must be patient, and alert. The length of the film (80 minutes) is not an added difficulty, and the animation is perfectly suited–a perfect venue. As Ebert notes, “Chomet has drawn it with a lightness and beauty worthy of an older, sadder Miyazaki story. Animation suits it. Live action would overwhelm its delicate fancy with realism.” Chomet and company’s control, their precision, is necessary—and lovely. The effect is the production of charmingly executed content that is multi-layered visually and contextually.


Needless to say, I highly recommend The Illustionist. It is rated PG, primarily for smoking, drinking, and near-suicide. If you read Tati into more of the characters than just the Illusionist. The film is even more heart-breaking. Regardless, the film is easily one for the 10 & up crowd who doesn’t mind beautiful animation and engaging on a few of the deeper levels. And do read Ebert’s and Dargis’ reviews, they are wonderful and insightful.


The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste), 2010

Directed by Sylvain Chomet

Produced by Sally Chomet, Bob Last

Screenplay by Henri Marquet, Sylvain Chomet

Story by Jacques Tati

Starring the voice talents of : Jean-Claude Donda (the Illusionist), Eilidh Rankin (Alice)

Music by Sylvain Chomet

Editing by Sylvain Chomet

Language: French, English, Gaelic

Running time: 80 minutes

Rated PG for for smoking, drinking, and near-suicide.

Wiki page, IMDb link