Screenshot: "Illusion"

Every major city is at one time or another accused of being fake or phony, of lacking the authenticity it claims to purport. Usually this accusation is directed at the people who live in the city and not the physical structures of the city itself. But in a new short film from French filmmaking duo Claire and Max, it’s exactly those aspects of New York City that lack any realness.

The surreal, dialogue-free film imagines the Big Apple as a massive movie set in which every building is just a propped-up facade with nothing behind it. An audible light switch marks the transition from night to day as very real people begin to make their way through an unsettlingly fake city. It’s a bit like stepping into an alternate version of Synecdoche, New York where Philip Seymour Hoffman’s production suffers under tighter budgetary constraints.

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According to Claire and Max’s website, “Illusion” is a follow-up to their short “Appearances,” which came out in January of this year. That film depicts Paris as a similarly hollow movie set in which the people and cars are eerily fading in and out of existence. And while the subtext of both shorts is a bit heavy-handed (see: giant marionette hands at the end of “Illusion”), the effect of seeing some of the world’s most recognizable cities robbed of all their depth is powerful.