(2010, Sylvain Chomet)
A British-French animated comedy drama, based on a script by Jacques Tati. Outdoes everything I’ve seen in the past few years. Director Chomet was criticized by Tati’s daughter and some of his fans. They thought his movie was too sentimental, and not funny enough, and this criticism is not completely without foundation (some scenes would no doubt have been more funny if Tati had directed – and played – them himself), but overall Chomet did a wonderful job. Like for his previous movie, Les Triplettes de Belleville, the artwork is marvelous, almost hypnotic. A large part of the movie is set in Edinburgh, and some locals said Chomet’s version of the city looks more like Edinburgh than Edinburgh itself. Working on the base of a script by Tati, also remedied this one shortcoming Les Triplettes had: Chomet is a great artist, his film looked amazing, but his script was a bit precarious and incoherent.
The film is about a French illusionist from the fifties, who faces the rise of rock ‘n roll and the coming of a new era in which his art will be become obsolete. He lives alone with his rabbit, a gruff and a bit of a nasty animal (it performs its tricks with ill will, and bites people who try to caress it). He thinks that maybe a trip to Scotland might help. The situation isn’t more cheerful in the rainy north, but there’s at least one person who appreciates him, a young working class girl who thinks he possesses real supernatural powers. She decides to give up her lousy job and stay with him.
Tati never filmed his own script because (so they say) he thought the story was too sad. It is: this is not only the most hypnotic movie I’ve seen in years, it’s also the saddest. The image we get of the last dance hall stars such as clowns, ventriloquists and illusionists is so poetic and yet so striking, that it literally becomes painful.
L'Illusioniste is not as funny as Les Vacances de Mr. Hulot or Jour de Fête. The atmosphere is closer to that of Playtime, but the movie is much easier to enjoy (still it does require your full attention, I've watched it twice now within 48 hours, and discovered a lot of things the second time around that I had missed when watching it for the first time).