Tuesday 18 June 2013

French Animation, Chapitre 5 - The Illusionist

Previously: Ernest & Celestine

What is it? 
Helmed by Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville), The Illusionist is based on a script written by French filmmaker/actor Jacques Tati. The famous director allegedly wrote the screenplay in an attempt to reconcile with his estranged daughter, and intended to shoot a live-action film out of it. But he never did, and the script ended up many years later in Sylvain Chomet's hands, who chose to do it as an animated film, because the very idea of someone stepping into Tati's shoes for the role of the main character was absurd to him.
The story, set in Scotland, focuses on the relationship between an illusionist and a girl who thinks he really is a magician.

How is it?
The Illusionist is first and foremost a visual masterpiece. Everything looks great. The way Scotland's natural sceneries are drawn is especially gorgeous. If you don't believe me, just click on the picture below. Do it, it's even asking nicely.

Click me, please. Thanks in advance.

I was right, wasn't I? Watching the landscape changing as the clouds are moving is even more magnificent. 
It's hard for me to not compare The Illusionist with The Triplets of Belleville (which is, as you may remember, my favourite French animated film of all time). And on this visual level, they're equally good. Granted, they don't feel the same: where The Triplets were riddled with visual gags and full of colours, The Illusionist is more grounded in reality; purer, but just as beautiful and melancholic. And you can still catch some jokes in the sets if you're looking for them.

Where I feel Chomet didn't reproduce the genius moves from his precedent film, is in pretty much everything else. His direction is not as inventive, not as passionate. Of course, there are reasons for that. As I said before, The Illusionist was written and supposed to be directed in live-action by Jacques Tati. As a result, what we have here is a movie that is half Tati, half Chomet. So it feels like nobody truly owns it. Yes, the story is Tati's, but Sylvain Chomet is credited as a writer (alongside Henri Marquet), which means he probably made some changes to make the film his own - like changing the setting from Czechoslovakia to Scotland. And yet, it looks like he is too respectful of Jacques Tati to make The Illusionist a 100% Chomet movie. It's too clean, too safe; almost too perfect to be an animated masterpiece. With The Triplets of Belleville, Sylvain Chomet had a new idea with each shot. Here, it's not like he doesn't have any ideas left, it's probably just that he's too shy to use them.

That being said, The Illusionist's story is touching through and through, and every aspect of the film is still very high standard. The animation is gorgeous, subtle and believable, the music is beautiful... Everything screams talent and hard work, but the film could have been even better by not being such a love letter from Sylvain Chomet to genius artist Jacques Tati. In the end, The Illusionist falls just short of actually being magical.

Next: ?

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