Working from an original script by the late Jacques Tati, Sylvain Chomet follows up The Triplets of Belleville with The Illusionist, the somber tale of an aging French magician and the young girl with whom he strikes up an unlikely friendship. Traveling about 1950s Europe performing low-rent gigs in theaters, pubs and anywhere else that will take him (now that rock n’ roll has seized the cultural imagination), the reserved Illusionist (Jean-Claude Donda) finds his solitary life’s routine interrupted when, in Scotland, his work enchants a woman (Eilidh Rankin) who decides, without asking, to tag along with him on his journeys. Their bond slowly develops from hesitant to affectionate, though Chomet – as in the sight of the girl somewhat pushily asking her elder caretaker to buy her a new dress – infuses their dynamic with a prickly undercurrent of selfishness (on the girl’s part) and coldness (on the Illusionist’s part). Chomet’s animation, full of slender human figures who move with languorous grace and environments crafted with inviting hues and soft angular lines, is striking in both its expressionistic beauty and, since there’s next-to-no spoken dialogue, deft visual storytelling. Unlike with Belleville, however, those unique aesthetics are in service of a downbeat film in which the hopeful wonder of magic – and, concurrently, childhood – is shown to be an unsustainable fantasy. Chomet delivers a fair share of self-conscious and underwhelming Tati-style whimsy, culminating with the Illusionist (whose tall frame and gray hair mark him as a Tati stand-in) stumbling into a movie theater playing Mon Oncle. Yet the film ultimately finds itself quite a ways away from comedy, and be it via two peripheral performers’ devolution into destitution, or a finale of heartbreaking abandonment (of tricks, dreams, loved ones and the past), The Illusionist’s rending, if slight, saga proves mired in an adult sense of melancholic loneliness and loss.