Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Illusionist

I enjoy Jacques Tati's movies, so I have had my doubts about this animated version of his character. However, the rainy weekend finally drove me into a theater to see The Illusionist, Sylvain Chomet's homage, based on a controversial, unproduced scenario by Tati. Set in 1959 in a rainy Edinburgh, the story feels like it is from a different era, one in which indoor plumbing & electric light bulbs are temperamental novelties. Tati appears as Tatischeff, a music hall magician increasingly marginalized in the modern world. He finds himself supporting a young woman, Alice, who is drawn to him for his acts of kindness. The animators have convincingly recreated Jacques Tati's teetering walk, awkward movements & slow-witted timing. With its preponderance of long shots, multilingual mumbling in place of dialogue, & clash of the traditional & the modern, the movie mimics a Tati production. I just wish it were funny.

The cityscapes & dilapidated yet cozy settings are depicted lovingly, & the film has a hand-drawn look mixed with CGI. However, I found it disconcerting on many levels. Uncaring fates are meted out to all the elderly characters. Grotesque caricatures, such as a blob of a soprano in a viking helmet, inhabit the film's corners. The cartoon Tati runs into a movie theater & sees footage of the real Tati in Mon Oncle. The relationship between Tatischeff & Alice, for whom the older man may have fatherly feelings, romantic feelings or neither, made me uncomfortable. She is so stupid that when she hooks up with a handsome young man at the end, I did not think the young man lucky.

There were a number of people at the afternoon show, all of them adults except for 2 small children with their father. The movie does not seem to be for kids, though. Since most of the story takes place in a rainy city, when I emerged from the theater into the rainy late afternoon, I felt like I was walking back into the film.

§ L'illusionniste (2010)
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Writers: Jacques Tati (original screenplay), Sylvain Chomet (adaptation)

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