Like Burger’s 2002 debut, ‘Interview with the Assassin’, ‘The Illusionist’ inhabits a world flickering between reality and illusion; as we follow Uhl’s investigations, we’re kept guessing about whether Eisenheim is the performer of merely unbelievably good tricks or genuine supernatural acts. In its fin de siècle setting, it also flickers between two ages: while the love triangle between lowly hero, fair duchess and evil prince looks back to ancient fairytales, its evocations of cinema’s infancy – sepia palette, iris shots and, in one scene, an early film projector – point to the media-saturated future which, as Eisenheim’s apparent raising of the dead begins to undermine the Prince’s authority, provokes interesting questions about the way illusions consolidate leaders’ powers today. With exquisite performances (Giamatti’s, in particular), it leaves you thrillingly hovering, happily uncommitted to any one interpretation – right until the end, that is, where Uhl seems to figure it all out in a clever-clever turnaround you’d thought the film was above. Or does he? It’s only his explanation, after all.
Cast and crew