The Illusionist Sylvain Chomet

The Illusionist Sylvain Chomet
The Illusionist (director Sylvain Chomet's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated animated feature, The Triplets of Belleville) is an odd conglomeration of styles. Using an un-produced script by Jacques Tati (the creative force and star of classics such as Playtime and Mon Oncle), Chomet creates a film that tries to be both understated and lavish, using heavily stylized, mostly hand-drawn animation, but in the service of a slow-moving, often gloomy story. The film oscillates between success and failure, but fortunately, ends on an emotionally resonant, almost heartbreaking high note, which helps gloss over some of the earlier missteps. The plot concerns an aging magician (an animated version of Tati's M. Hulot character) playing what remains of the vaudeville circuit in 1959. Unfortunately for the magician, a rock'n'roll band continually upstages his act, indicating the path twentieth century culture is heading down. This is the first point where the film begins to falter: the portrayal of the rock'n'roll band as raucous, mincing teenagers who cheapen society is an extremely antiquated notion, causing one to wonder if Chomet couldn't have found a more enlightened way to convey Tati's original point. The magician eventually travels to Scotland, where he meets an impoverished young girl, whom he takes under his wing. The magician begins giving her presents, conjuring them for her as if it were magic, but his maintenance of this illusion begins to take a heavy toll on his finances, as well as his overall spirit. The film works best when it comes across as an earnestly loving tribute to Tati, such as in a scene where the animated Tati sneaks into a movie theatre playing Mon Oncle. The daunting task of portraying the physical comedy of a French cinematic legend through animation is handled almost perfectly. The film also beautifully renders the city of Edinburgh, where most of the film takes place. Unfortunately, all of these elements don't completely hold together the film, the pacing never really hits its stride and some of the more bizarre characterizations overshadow the tenderness of the main plot. Regardless, The Illusionist is a worthwhile coda to the career of Tati, and a solid sophomore feature for Chomet. (Sony)