A Different Kind of Cartoon 

A wistful, sophisticated, hand-drawn alternative to Hollywood-style animation.

film1.jpg

Nestled in-between box-office blockbusters How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3 in the three-film slate of Best Animated Feature Film Oscar nominees this year is something very different: The Illusionist, the second feature from French filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, whose 2003 debut, The Triplets of Belleville, was also an Oscar nominee.

Belleville fans — and there are many — will be pleased to know that Chomet matches much of the charm of that film here, with this tale of an aging, itinerant magician watching the music-hall days fade on the cusp of the 1960s.

Similarities between the two films are many. Like Belleville, The Illusionist is a largely hand-drawn, richly detailed, urban-European period piece, a comedy of sorts, virtually dialogue-free yet still full of sound.

It's not as antic, however. The jazz-age swing and pop and Rube Goldberg-esque activity of the earlier film are replaced by a slower pace and more serene, wistful tone.

Chomet adapted the film from an unproduced screenplay by late French filmmaker/performer Jaques Tati, who was something of a post-WWII Buster Keaton, his style of deadpan, cerebral slapstick casting a skeptical eye on modernity in films such as Mon Oncle, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, and the audacious, brilliant Playtime.

Tati had intended the film to be his follow-up to 1958's Mon Oncle, and Chomet pays tribute by modeling the title character after Tati, including given him Tati's birth name, Tatischeff. Tati is further brought into the film in a nice moment where Tatischeff wanders into a movie theatre showing Mon Oncle, the real film — not an animated simulacrum — on the screen.

The Illusionist also begins in a movie theater, in Paris, where Tatischeff is opening for a film, technical difficulties sending him back onstage to muddle through his act to mild applause while you can hear workers clanking and tinkering in the back.

Similarly embarrassing is a gig at a London variety show, where Tatischeff follows a bunch of proto-Beatles mop tops (Billy & the Britoons), taking the stage to see the screaming teenagers departed and only a lone old woman and her grandson remaining

Retreating to rural Scotland, Tatischeff has a successful performance at a modest tavern, but this residency is short-lived when the bar acquires its first jukebox. While there, however, Tatischeff is kind to a young barmaid in ways that she doesn't quite understand, and when he departs for Edinburgh, she stows away.

There, the film settles in, the odd couple taking up residence at a hotel filled with other endangered entertainers — clowns, acrobats, and ventriloquists. And these two new visitors experience the city — its winding streets, rolling hills, shops and café. The young woman, Alice, longs for the nice clothes she sees in shop windows, and Tatischeff acquires them for her. She thinks his magic is real, but that wonder — a product of youth and naiveté — can't last.

The plotting here is relatively bare, as is the film's 80 minute running time. But the characters, mood, imagery, and feel for off-hand incident — a clown, having run out of water while washing off his makeup, finishes the job by squeezing some out of the trick flower on his lapel —  are pretty special.

Opens Friday, February 11th

Ridgeway Four

Tags:

The Illusionist (L'illusionniste)
Rated PG · 82 min. · 2010
Official Site: www.sonyclassics.com/theillusionist
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Writer: Sylvain Chomet and Jacques Tati
Producer: Sally Chomet and Bob Last
Cast: Jean-Claude Donda, Edith Rankin, Jil Aigrot, Didier Gustin, Frédéric Lebon and Tom Urie

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for The Illusionist (L'illusionniste)

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • The Florida Project

      Orlando grifters live on the edge in director Sean Baker’s follow up to Tangerine.
    • American Made

      Tom Cruise is at his best playing wily Arkansan drug smuggler Bobby Seal.

Blogs

Music Blog

The Anti-Group: U.S. Premiere of Electro Pioneers

We Saw You

Tequila Fest

Music Blog

Chris Phillips benefit

News Blog

Rhodes Students Launch 'Odd Job' App

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Porcelan

From My Seat

National Baseball Day

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies 111, Warriors 101: Five Thoughts

Fly On The Wall Blog

A Post About Gluten Free Strippers and Effing Traffic

Music Blog

A Week's Tribute to Jimmie Lunceford

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation