Directed by: Sylvain Chomet
Cast: Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin
Running Time: 1 hr 20 mins
Release Date: January 14, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: A talented magician (Donda) struggles to find work while becoming friends with a young girl (Rankin) who snuck away from her village.
WHO’S IT FOR? Fans of Jacques Tati will be delighted to see his original story brought to life, but those who can get lost in animation that doesn’t have spunky characters or even dialogue for that matter will enjoy themselves.
The Illusionist is a piece of art hand-drawn with undeniable charm from the unique style of director Sylvain Chomet, but its a movie truly made by the man given an “Original Story” credit – Jacques Tati. The classic French director’s original concept does more than just provide the tale with a course of events, it provides the soul that Chomet’s detailed realist animation needs to come to life. As The Illusionist plays on, the movie becomes a dedicated tribute to the writer/director/actor behind M. Hulot’s Holiday or Mon Oncle, and directly places the real Tati into the cartoonish world (literally) that would only be explored by M. Hulot. Lead character Jacques Tatischeff (Tati’s real name) dresses like M. Hulot, shares the same stride in his walk, and has his face designed very similarly to Tati himself. Mixing Tati’s filmography with the bits of true-life story he himself provides here, there are even direct references to his movies. In one scene, Tatischeff wanders into a movie theater, and a clip from Mon Oncle plays distinctly in the background. If the connection hadn’t already been apparent, here was the film declaring itself to be a semi-posthumous autobiography, as originally started by Tati himself.
Because no one should try to play pseudo-Tati, and also because the “magic tricks” would not be as much fun to watch in live action, The Illusionist chooses animation, and very life-like animation at that. What the pens of the animators capture only differs slightly from that of what live-action could provide. However, nearly every character in this movie walks around with their eyes closed, and some have very distinguished physical features (either very short or very thin). Connecting more to a silent film than any other animated movie of its time, The Illusionist presents itself like a painting, with warming mobile characters sparking up the static frames. The detail of animation goes into the wonderful illustrated performances just as much as it goes into creating the worlds for such things to occur in. Letting the visuals speak for themselves, the script uses little dialogue, as the animated beings only speak in indistinguishable bursts of non-words.
Chomet’s touching sentimentality towards Tati can also be heard in his fantastic score, which evokes the more melodic moments of composer Erik Satie. The music of The Illusionist is waltzy and tries to be persistently French, even when the film is taking place in Edinburgh or London, etc. Though the film does have moments on despair that usually beckon for tearful violins, The Illusionist maintains its mysterious score, along with a finger or two on optimism.
It must be said that the magic of The Illusionist doesn’t just reserve its dazzle for those who are aware of Tati. Though the concept lacks a bit of freshness, it still reaches out to its audience a wonderful story about pure talent and dedication, even when commercialism is close to killing it. Recognizing Tati in The Illusionist can simply be a treat. Whether we feel it or not, Chomet’s dedicated work is faithful to the director, and to the unique way of thinking in which Tati captured our world. The Illusionist is an affecting tale that is remarkable to anyone who appreciates art, along with those who make it.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10