A French illusionist finds himself out of work and travels to Scotland, where he meets a young woman. Their ensuing adventure changes both their lives forever.
Details the story of a dying breed of stage entertainer whose thunder is being stolen by emerging rock stars. Forced to accept increasingly obscure assignments in fringe theaters, garden parties and bars, he meets a young fan who changes his life forever.
- The film concerns an illusionist/magician named Tatischeff (no one ever says this name, but it is mentioned on the poster he carries with him, and shows at different performances).
The scene opens in Paris 1959, the entertainment landscape is changing with the advent of rock and roll, and the incoming onslaught of television. Tati finds himself playing to nearly-empty auditoriums. When it seems there's little luck in Paris, he heads off to London.
The only performance there that he's able to perform is the second act following a rock-and-roll band. However, the band packs the house full of screaming girls, and the theater owner ends up keeping the performers on for multiple 'encores.' When Tati finally gets to perform, the theater is nearly empty...except for two people.
Tati soon tries to peddle his act to even smaller venues, playing at cafes, bars, and at one point, a private party. However, almost no one seems to pay any attention to him...except a drunken Scotsman.
The Scotsman invites Tati to perform at his pub in Scotland, and the Illusionist accepts. Unlike the other venues, the people in the pub actually stop and pay attention to the Illusionist's act. However, they are also soon entranced when the pub is wired for electricity, amazed at the place's first electric light, and soon a jukebox.
One of the people who is curious about the Illusionist is the Scotsman's young daughter, named Alice. While cleaning up the hallway near the room he's staying in, she accidentally drops a bar of soap, and when the Illusionist picks it up, she is astonished when he magically turns it into a brand new bar! She is also amazed when he manages to seemingly pull money out of thin air, causing her to believe that Tati has some supernatural powers.
Walking around the small town, Tati notices Alice admiring a pair of red shoes in a store window, and notices that the boots she wears are starting to fall apart. Using what money he has, he purchases the shoes for her, and magically makes them appear to her. Needless to say, Alice is delighted.
Very soon, Tati decides to leave the small town, but on the ferry back to the main land, he is surprised to find Alice, who has voluntarily decided to come along with him. Tati quietly accepts her request to accompany him, as well as her request to visit Edinburgh.
Tati manages to get a small apartment in a building that houses other performers. These include three acrobatic brothers, a ventriloquist, and a clown. While Alice is given the bedroom of the apartment, Tati decides to sleep on the sofa in the main apartment room.
Tati manages to get a job performing at the local Music Hall, and also spends time with Alice. However, Alice meets a young man and steps out in Tati's absence to be with him. Tati comes home drunk one evening and the next morning finds Alice gone. He is despondent and walks his rabbit into the mountains and sets him free. He then packs his bags and catches a train to who knows where.
After being out with her young man, Alice comes home to an empty apartment. Tati has left her some money and a note saying "magicians do not exist". She takes her suitcase, turns out the light and joins her young man waiting downstairs in the street.
On the train, Tati shares a car with a mother and her child.
The final scenes show the lights of the city going out except for the televisions in a shop window. The ventriloquist's dummy is for sale in a shop window. The price tag says "free".