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Edward Norton and Jessica Biel in The Illusionist
Photo courtesy of Yari Film Group



By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 8 FEBRUARY 2007The Illusionist, which takes place in Vienna a century ago, is an eminently watchable little film about magic. It's beautifully photographed, with likeable actors, and features an improbable romance between a peasant boy and a princess. In this case, the princess is the pretty Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel) who stole the heart of our young magician years before.

Edward Norton in The Illusionist
Photo courtesy of Yari Film Group

They meet again on the stage of a theatre in Vienna some fifteen years later, when, alas for our hero, his beloved is promised in marriage to the villainous crown prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) to further the latter's imperialistic designs. The poor man, for he turns out to be not quite so bad as he is made out to be, is therefore unwittingly duped by our magician friend who uses his occult powers for his personal ends; to secure the not unwilling Sophie, who must be now knocking on thirty, for himself.

Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton in The Illusionist
Photo courtesy of Yari Film Group

The film is not without a certain charm, from the magician himself, charismatic Edward Norton, as well as from his conjuring tricks. Two butterflies flit across the stage, transporting and returning a spectator's lacey handkerchief, and orange trees blossom and bear fruit under your nose. The chief of police, excellent Paul Giamatti, in the service of Leopold, also turns out to be a kindly fellow.  Nevertheless, if the first half of the film was pleasantly entertaining, it still remains a film for the naively credulous; it's melodramatic, but nice and gentle, so not even the most susceptible of cinema goers won't lose a night's sleep once home. Indeed, lulled by Philip Glass's wearisome score and the inevitability of events, several spectators nodded off in the warmth of the theatre..

Two stars 

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at

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