The Illusionist [Blu-Ray]

Sylvain Chomet

BY Will SloanPublished May 13, 2011

Jacques Tati is so strongly remembered for the microscopic precision of his pantomime comedies ― films like Play Time and Mr. Hulot's Holiday, with as many characters and subplots as an elaborate dollhouse ― that we can forget his great and surprising warmth. Tati's characters hustle and bustle through exaggeratedly ultra-modern landscapes likes ants on an anthill, and while his films are always suspicious of "this modern life," they regard its denizens with bemused affection, never dismay. It would be wrong to call Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist a "new Jacques Tati film," despite its source as an un-produced Tati screenplay and its very Hulot-like protagonist, since Chomet (whose work includes The Triplets of Belleville) favours an intimate tone and visual style so different from Tati. But what makes these two keen observers of human behaviour such ideal posthumous collaborators is that warm humanism, that love of their weird little characters in their weird little worlds, which never feels patronizing. Consider Chomet's rendering of Tati in animated form as Tatischeff, a failed music hall magician ― from the too-short pants to the rigid legs to the arms that remain stiff as the upper body lurches precariously forward ― Tatischeff amplifies all of Mr. Hulot's quirks without losing his strength and optimism. Not much happens in this gentle, lovely little wisp of a film, which more or less follows Tatischeff's wanderings from place to place, accompanied by a 20ish washerwoman with whom his relationship is most definitely platonic. Tatischeff spends the most time meandering around a particularly dreary section of Edinburgh, where his neighbours include a ventriloquist whose dummy is his only friend and a suicidal man who puts off hanging himself so he can eat his supper. The Illusionist is melancholy, but it's never despairing ― how could it be when it has the indefatigable spirit of Hulot and Chomet's delightful animation? Among the many sights worth savouring: a rock'n'roll star who pivots dangerously on his skinny legs; Tatischeff's beady-eyed, buck-toothed disappearing rabbit; and a huge-jawed, ever-smiling Scotsman, always happily (and drunkenly) oblivious to his surroundings. Not to mention a line of chorus girls, rail-thin, save for their massive thighs; the old woman sleeping next to Tatischeff on a train, with just a little bit of fuzz above her lip; the washerwoman dancing daintily around the apartment in her new coat; a massive opera soprano with Viking horns, whose dress barely contains her enormous breasts; and Chomet's extraordinary watercolour backgrounds. All of this looks exquisite on Blu-Ray, the ideal format for animated films. Extras include a short behind-the-scenes documentary revealing how the seemingly hand drawn film was rendered almost entirely on computers, and a featurette of work-in-progress line tests.

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