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Film review: The Illusionist ****

WEDNESDAY night's launch of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at the Festival Theatre may have been an evening of a thousand stars, including our very own Sir Sean Connery, but fans straining to catch a glimpse of those on the red carpet were looking in the wrong place: the real star of new animated film, The Illusionist, is Edinburgh itself.

Opening in the Paris of 1959, French stage magician Tatischeff (the real name of French comedy actor Jacques Tati, who penned the original script) is being slowly pushed out of the limelight by pop groups and modern culture.

Determined to ply his trade, the Illusionist takes up an offer to perform on a remote Scottish island, where he befriends a young woman whom he subsequently takes to Edinburgh to start a new life. In the city, the pair follow their own paths, learning about life, love and each other in the process.

Perfectly capturing the essence of Tati's Mon Oncle character (fans of Tati should look out for a neat cameo from the Cameo Cinema late on in the picture), it's barely noticeable that the film is told almost in silence, except for the occasional French or Gaelic phrase backed by an impressive score.

The Illusionist makes the most of its location with a breathtaking tour of 1950s Edinburgh which will resonate with anyone who lives in the city or knows it well. Streets and landmarks are name checked on-screen, while in-jokes, such as cafes offering "Full Scottish breakfasts (battered)", can be found throughout.

Edinburgh's skyline has never looked so good, and if the city didn't exist it would be hard to believe somewhere so beautiful was real: if locals aren't inspired to take a walk up North Bridge or down Victoria Street after this, they never will be. While the script may not be the most incident-packed, and there are certainly no headache inducing 3D antics in this painstakingly hand-drawn tale, this is a funny and heartwarming film for all ages which celebrates the past while looking to the future, much like Edinburgh herself.

 
 
 

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