The Illusionist (2010)

Jacques Tati is one of the more interesting figures in the history of cinema. His career stretched from the post war era to the seventies, well into the sound era and yet he almost entirely eschewed the innovation. The six features that he directed and starred in (he was ambitious but not prolific) mostly feature his signature character, Monsieur Hulot, a bumbling middle-aged man in a raincoat with a talent for getting into fixes, and contain almost no dialog and very few sound effects. A former athlete and mime, Tati was more inspired by Chaplin and Keaton than Jean Renoir. This method of filmmaking fit in very well with Tati’s main theme of alienation from the modern world. He was a man out of his time and it was easy to sympathize with him even if his satire was sharp-edged at times.

The Illusionist is an animated film by Sylvain Chomet who made The Triplets of Belleville a few years back. If you remember that film, you will recognize that even though Chomet is an animator, his artistic vision is seemingly sympathetic with Tati’s. There isn’t much dialog in a Chomet film either. When Tati’s daughter gave Chomet the rights to this unproduced screenplay by her father, it was the next best thing to Tati directing it himself.

Or so it seemed.

The plot is simple. An aging magician named Tatischeff, which happens to be Tati’s real last name, voiced (minimally) by Jean Claude Donda, tries to get by in a world that has little use for magicians or any of the old music hall acts. He can’t play big halls anymore because they are all booked up with pop stars. Winding up in remote village in the Scottish isles, he encounters a young woman, Alice, voiced by Eilidh Rankin. Alice adores him and thinks his act is real magic. She takes up with him, traveling with him to Edinburgh, living in the same apartment,cooking his meals and cleaning up. She also takes care of the other down and out music hall veterans in their rundown hotel. Tatischeff takes a fatherly interest in Alice, buying her shoes and dresses that he can’t afford and she blossoms into a beauty. She keeps asking for more because she thinks he is producing these things by magic. As a consequence, his finances are strained and when he loses his gig, he has to search for other work, first in a garage and then doing magic in a storefront window for a department store.

It doesn’t quite work. First of all the lack of dialog makes it hard to follow the story or get to know the characters. You never really understand the emotional connection between Tatischeff and Alice. I’m not sure I would have picked up on the fact that she thinks his magic is real if I hadn’t read it in a review.

But the main reason The Illusionist is a disappointment has to do with its origins. This is a story that was intended for live action. It has two major elements: magic tricks and physical comedy, neither of which really work in animation. Someone pulling a rabbit out of a hat or producing a wine glass out of thin air just isn’t that impressive when they are animated. What’s more Tatischeff’s tricks like the man himself are modest. It really doesn’t fully use the potential of animation. The same is true of the physical comedy. Tati used his athleticism and inventive mind to put his characters in ingenious situations that just kept getting worse and worse, but all his bits were firmly bound by the laws of physics. Chomet restricts himself to the same rules for the most part and it’s just not as impressive. Given the conceit of Alice’s mistaken belief in real magic, I’m not sure how you can fix this, but if Chomet had put the story into a cartoon universe where natural laws are bent a little, it might have worked.

I guess what’s missing is whimsy, of which The Triplets of Belleville had plenty. Tati had it too. So it’s a big surprise that The Illusionist lacks it.


1 Response to “The Illusionist (2010)”

  1. 1 mila January 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    I saw the animated version last night.
    I agree with not knowing that Alice thought his
    Magic was real. However, it WAS somewhat evident when she sneaks on the fairie boat. The ticket checker asks her to produce a ticket which she has none. At this time she looks at the illusionist and waves her hands in a “abracadabra” manor to produce her ticket.
    That was very obvious to me.
    I loved the movie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

February 2011
« Jan   Mar »

Recent Comments

Gorge on Ready Player One
Gorge on Black Panther
Gorge on Oscar Picks 2017
Gorge on Phantom Thread
Gorge on Call Me by Your Name

Blog Stats

  • 36,668 hits

%d bloggers like this: