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John Drew

The Illusionist (L'illusionniste) - 2010

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Sylvain Chomet's follow up to The Triplets of Belleville, which is based on an original, unproduced script by Jacques Tati.

Kirk Honeycutt - The Hollywood Reporter

Following the triumph of his wildly inventive "The Triplets of Belleville" in 2003, French animator Sylvain Chomet is off in an entirely different direction in "The Illusionist." Where "Triplets" exploded with narrative invention and cartoon foolery filled with cultural references, bicycle racing and strange juxtapositions, all told at a manic pace, "Illusionist" is at heart a simple story about an old vaudevillian and a young girl in the late 1950s. It's a mood piece, and that mood is melancholy.

Whereas "Triplets" won awards and major distribution deals, "Illusionist" looks like a more rarefied adult cartoon that will have loads of invites to festivals, but theatrical exposure outside Europe might be scant. Chomet's name alone assures some level of distribution on several platforms, but buyers might be wary this time.

The film represents, in a sense, a collaboration beyond the grave. To secure a live-action clip of Jacques Tati for "Triplets," Chomet contacted his only surviving daughter for those rights. Then Sophie Tatischeff mentioned an unrealized script by her father that Chomet's animation style might ideally suit. Et voila, you have "Illusionist," a cartoon based on Tati's original live-action screenplay.

Couldn't find a trailer, but here's an interview with director Sylvain Chomet (in French), with a couple of minutes of the film interspersed. Looks beautiful!

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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This now has a North American distributor...

Variety

Sony Pictures Classics has picked up North American rights to Sylvain Chomet's animated pic "The Illusionist" from Pathe. Pic, which played the Berlin Film Fest to a strong reception, is targeted for release at the end of this year. Set in the 1950s, storyline centers on a stage entertainer whose act is being eclipsed by rising rock stars, and on his relationship with a fan he meets. Pic is based on an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati. Illusionist" is produced by Bob Last and exec produced by Jake Eberts and Philippe Carcassonne. SPC released Chomet's 2003 movie "The Triplets of Belleville," and previously worked with Carcassonne on last year's "Coco Before Chanel."

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Sicinski:

If you liked the breezy, unforced whimsy of Chomet’s The Triplettes of Belleville as much as I did, do yourself a favor and steer clear of The Illusionist, a drab slog that splits it time fairly evenly between miserablism and cliché. You would think that it could be much more than this (or at least I did), given that the film is based on an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati. Tati also features as the main character, albeit in animated form. (In tiny bits, we even see him begin to form his Hulot figure, but this really doesn’t go anywhere.) At first The Illusionist seems like Tati’s wistful reminiscence to his salad days as a stage magician. We see him performing for small, semi-appreciative crowds. Then he hits the road, meets a Scottish lass, takes her to Edinburgh with him, and from there the fissures begin to emerge. These fissures would be psychological, if anyone in The Illusionist had a discernible psychology. But Tati’s choppy, episodic script (the man wasn’t a writer, you know) provides nothing in the way of motivations. Instead, cruel, inscrutable actions are undertaken suddenly and without reason, just to send the plot in a mournful direction. Meanwhile, Chomet offers nothing in terms of Tati’s deft visual gamesmanship or panache. Instead we get washed-out watercolor visuals depicting little more than a standard-issue “life on the road” tale, with easy caricatures of all countries involved. Nothing hangs together; it’s neither comedic nor moving. It just plods on, a bit like a shapeless Chaplin film if the Little Tramp were resurrected as a complete asshole.

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Sicinski:

If you liked the breezy, unforced whimsy of Chomet’s The Triplettes of Belleville as much as I did, do yourself a favor and steer clear of The Illusionist, a drab slog that splits it time fairly evenly between miserablism and cliché. You would think that it could be much more than this (or at least I did), given that the film is based on an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati. Tati also features as the main character, albeit in animated form. (In tiny bits, we even see him begin to form his Hulot figure, but this really doesn’t go anywhere.) At first The Illusionist seems like Tati’s wistful reminiscence to his salad days as a stage magician. We see him performing for small, semi-appreciative crowds. Then he hits the road, meets a Scottish lass, takes her to Edinburgh with him, and from there the fissures begin to emerge. These fissures would be psychological, if anyone in The Illusionist had a discernible psychology. But Tati’s choppy, episodic script (the man wasn’t a writer, you know) provides nothing in the way of motivations. Instead, cruel, inscrutable actions are undertaken suddenly and without reason, just to send the plot in a mournful direction. Meanwhile, Chomet offers nothing in terms of Tati’s deft visual gamesmanship or panache. Instead we get washed-out watercolor visuals depicting little more than a standard-issue “life on the road” tale, with easy caricatures of all countries involved. Nothing hangs together; it’s neither comedic nor moving. It just plods on, a bit like a shapeless Chaplin film if the Little Tramp were resurrected as a complete asshole.

Yikes.

This completely contradicts what I've heard from others about the film, which is that it's a charming, splendid film, and one of the very best of the year.

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But then, when was the last time Sicinski was incorrect? Honest question.

As insightful as Sicinski tends to be, there have been a few times at which my evaluation of a film and his have been at odds. Can't remember which films, exactly, but given some time, I'm sure I can find a few examples.

Edited by Ryan H.

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vjmorton gives it 4 out of 10:

Just a misconceived film, if not exactly an unpleasant or punishing one. As everyone et son frere knows, this film is based on an unfilmed Jacques Tati script, about an early-60s magician being elbowed out the industry by newer forms of enterainment. But I think it’s more than name-dropping to point this out, because it’s the key to why this film is, I think, unsuccessful. The protagonist is an obvious M. Hulot cousin and is even named Tatisheff (Tati’s real name). While touring England and later Scotland, he takes on a young girl as a “Cinderella” project and is so successful, she begins to attract another man.

While Tati is very far from a favorite of mine — I think his comedy plays better theoretically and on the page (this is part of why, I think, he is a critics favorite) — even a fan should realize that pointing out that Hulot was a cartoon or Tati had cartoon elements in his films don’t mean that actually animating him is a good idea. Without Tati’s physical presence as an actor and the materiality of his world, the humor becomes even more theoretical.

There are some funny bits here — the most dangerous rabbit since the Carter administration, the reason the magician rolls up his sleeve at one point, and an on-the-side joke you might miss about British cuisine, as the POV sits outside an Edinburgh “chippie” and you can read the menu. But there’s also a distasteful element of self-aggrandizement and/or self-pity in the story, portraying a Beatles clone group (the Britoons) as loud, talentless nancy-boys just makes Tati/Chomet come across as Grandpa in the corner of the room (or Charlie Chaplin in A KING IN NEW YORK) ranting against the dang-fool younger generation and their awful jazz. And ultimately I think Sylvain’s animation style — its grotesque elements, the lack of speech and a barely-realistic template — works against the kind of semi-tragic story of lost love that THE ILLUSIONIST ends up being.

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My wife's, who is in search of upbeat films, first comment was, "we could have seen Blue Valentine." But I think I like it. To be sure it's languid and melancholy, but that fits the theme. Perhaps it is just a sign that I've reached a point in life that I can truly empathize with the main character.

The real challenge, I think, is how to interpret

the note he leaves behind, "Magicians do not exist.

I think we're meant to argue against that.

Let me add: I kept imagining this as Tati might have done it (i.e., live action). I think it works this way, but I think I'd have prefered live.

Edited by Darrel Manson

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Our comment might have been "We could have seen 'Another Year'". :lol:

Beautiful animation, so-so script..

Were we supposed to think that the magician was jealous of the girl? Did he resent buying the girl the gifts? (She didn't seen to *really* beg for them). I don' t need movies to answer all the question they ask, but they have to be excellent films to earn the right of having unanswered questions

Edited by LibrarianDeb

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SDG   
My wife's, who is in search of upbeat films, first comment was, "we could have seen Blue Valentine."

My wife is always talking about forming a support group for film critics' wives subjected to too many depressing movies. Particularly around December/January. Perhaps our wives should get together.

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Tyler   

Our comment might have been "We could have seen 'Another Year'". :lol:

Beautiful animation, so-so script. <spoiler>Were we supposed to think that the magician was jealous of the girl? Did he resent buying the girl the gifts? (She didn't seen to *really* beg for them). I don' t need movies to answer all the question they ask, but they have to be excellent films to earn the right of having unanswered questions.</spoiler>

BTW, you have to use brackets [ ] for the spoiler tags to work.

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Even after all the negativity, I still find myself wanting to see this. What can I say? The trailer works for me. And when a trailer works for me, I have a hard time shaking the desire to want to see the film.

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The Illusionist has been nominated for Best Animated Feature (I mean the new animated film, of course, not the 2006 live-action movie by the same title), and no one who has seen it was surprised. It is simply a beautiful motion picture. Our protagonist, slipping past middle age, watches mountains and rivers flow past his train window; rain is drizzling, summer is fading into fall, and on the soundtrack someone is wandering around the piano keys in a Gallic sort of way. Sigh. What could be more delicately poignant, or more lovely?

... We follow the magician from theater to theater, town to town, then across the Channel to London, where a lively, inebriated Scotsman invites him to perform at his pub in the highlands. (Stay tuned after the credits for a last glimpse of this character.) A young girl who works in the village hotel there is awed by Tatischeff’s effects, and innocently believes that he has real magical powers. When he leaves for his next booking, in Edinburgh, she follows as a stowaway. This is where a Hulot-like twist occurs: Instead of explaining himself to Alice and sending her home, he obligingly goes along with the pretense. Alice thinks that he has magically produced a new pair of shoes for her, but now that she is in the big city, she sees that grown women wear high heels. She wants a stylish coat and a pretty dress too; she is growing up, turning into a beautiful young woman. One day she notices the handsome young man who lives across the street. Thus winter turns into spring.

But for Tatischeff things are on the decline. Variety-show audiences keep getting smaller and smaller. A ventriloquist and a clown who share their hotel are likewise in bad straits. Tatischeff secretly takes on extra jobs in order to keep up the pretense and continue giving Alice all the things she admires. He gets into various scrapes, and his goofs and disasters are funny, but, since they are the humiliations of a man whose time has passed, there’s an undertone of sadness. The story reaches an unforeseen, yet inevitable, ending.

Much can be said (and has been said) about the beauty of this movie. Images and music are perfectly married. Weather effects come across almost tangibly. A particularly impressive sequence comes when Tatischeff releases his rabbit on a hill outside of town ...

- Frederica Matthewes Green, National Review

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Attica   

- :Our protagonist, slipping past middle age, watches mountains and rivers flow past his train window; rain is drizzling, summer is fading into fall, and on the soundtrack someone is wandering around the piano keys

in a Gallic sort of way. Sigh. What could be more delicately poignant, or more lovely?

I really can't wait to see this film, even with some of it's somewhat negative reviews . That sounds like my kind of movie.

FWIW the director made a wonderful film near the start of his career for the NFB of Canada (NFB - France co-production), which went to the academy awards. I remember that this film was much loved by

some people in the Canadian arts community at the time.

Not sure if this short, the Old Lady and the Pigeons, has been mentioned on these boards before but here it is.

the Old Lady and the Pigeons

Edited by Attica

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Tyler   

I haven't seen much Tati (I lasted through about a third of Hulot's Holiday once), so I can't say much about those comparisons. One film that did come to mind for me, though, was Murnau's The Last Laugh (or The Last Man, the literal translation of the German title), which is about a doorman who loses his job. It's a silent movie, and there are no intertitles, so everything has to be communicated visually, similar to what happens in The Illusionist.

As for The Illusionist itself, I had to force myself and watch the movie at its pace--kind of like how I did with Into Great Silence--and when I could appreciate the moments in that way, I thought it worked pretty well. I really liked how much the movie communicates with subtle actions and the layout of the images, but it did feel long, even though it's only an hour and 20 minutes.

Did the ending

remind anyone else of Paris, Texas?

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