I try to watch a French film or two every year, not only because I love, generally, the aesthetic of French films and the music, but because they're usually really good stories, too. I had heard about The Illusionist from a friend online and immediately put it on my netflix queue, as it reminded me of the story The Triplets of Belleville, of which I own the soundtrack and loved. It was directed by the same person, Sylvain Chomet, and shares a number of similar qualities like animation style, somber color palette, and satirical characters.
This is the story of an aging magician and his dying art. As he is renting a flat above a pub, he entertains a curious barmaid who thinks he really can do magic. As he's encouraged by her surprise, she begins to use the flattery (magic?) to her own benefit, having him dwindle his savings account to buy her new clothes, a trip to a different city, etc. Whether this young woman knows the truth is not revealed, but their odd relationship is strained and eventually broken. It mirrors the relationship between a single/widowed father and his older daughter, although the ending is a bit more neutral than one would expect.
Although I loved this movie for it's finer qualities of whimsy and eclectic nature, it's not as good as Triplets. The music is sweet, but there is almost no talking and without subtitles for the few phrases spoken here and there, most viewers probably wouldn't like the fact that they can't understand it. Just like The Artist is doing currently, it's an experience in body language (and yes, animated body language at that) and patience in figuring out the story by visual [almost] alone. I would give this movie 2 out of 5 stars for the average movie watcher. Your time is better spent getting to know the Belleville songs, or better yet, Micmacs.