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One of the Best Animated Films of 2010,
This review is from: The Illusionist (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Blu-ray)
The latest animated film by Sylvain Chomet is based on a script by the late Jacques Tati, who intended the film to be live-action but ended up never bringing the film to fruition. Tati died in 1982 and the script was passed to Chomet by Tati's daughter Sophie Tatischeff, who died before Chomet's debut feature-length, animated film The Triplets of Belleville was released. Since The Illusionist debuted it has been criticized by family members of Tati for straying from his original vision, as well as his original intention for writing the script in the first place. Since Tati is credited with writing the original script and Chomet is credited with adapting it, it is unknown how significantly Chomet altered the original script. Whether Chomet strayed from Tati's script or not becomes irrelevant as we can't judge a film based on what it could've been but for what it is. The fact is, the film exists in its current form and here it is:
The film begins in Paris, 1959 with Tatischeff, the illusionist of the title, performing his act for anyone who will watch on any stage he can find. While not very successful Tatischeff is an effective illusionist, whose only problem seems to be his unruly rabbit. Constantly searching for a stage to perform on, Tatischeff travels to Scotland and meets a young woman named Alice who believes that his illusions are really magic. Following Tatischeff to Edinburgh, Alice takes care of the house while he goes around performing his act. Alice's love for his tricks and his unwillingness to admit to Alice that what he does is all illusion causes Tatischeff to slowly become bankrupt in his attempts to always have gifts on hand to impress the girl with.
Tatischeff is animated to look like Jacques Tati and Tati's persona is conveyed through his animated counterpart quite well. Those familiar with Tati should appreciate this animated version, as well as the scene where Tatischeff wanders into a theatre playing Mon Oncle. The animation in The Illusionist is much more straight-forward than The Triplets of Belleville, but retains a similar look and feel that identifies Chomet as the maker. Like that film, there is very little dialogue and when there is it's usually brief, mumbled, and nearly inaudible. Finally, just as Bruno the dog was one of the most amusing characters in The Triplets of Belleville simply by being a dog, so is the rabbit in The Illusionist simply by being a rabbit.
Chomet is one of the few animated filmmakers able to use their animation so poetically and while Tati was an immensely talented filmmaker who was more than capable of putting his vision onscreen, this film seems very well-suited for Chomet's animated interpretation. While this film may not be a perfect representation of Tati's vision or intent, it is a respectful tribute to both the man and his style. While I admittedly haven't re-visited Tati's films in sometime, Chomet stays true to his style with his use of wide shots, keeping his distance from Tatischeff in much the same way Tati kept his distance from his Monsieur Hulot. Chomet's film may not convey exactly what Tati wished it to, but the fanciful, melancholy it conveys is quite effective.
Through animation, Chomet is able to capture and convey more emotion than his medium should allow. There are directors who would struggle to capture this emotion with a live-action adaptation of Tati's script and actors who would struggle to convey as much meaning with a lengthy monologue that Chomet effortlessly conveys with sparse dialogue. It's a beautiful film to behold, has a lovely musical score, and happens to be one of the most poignant films of 2010.
The Illusionist is a touching, at times depressing, but always effective film that succeeds at capturing the spirit of Tati where it may have failed to capture the message. Chomet continues doing great things in animation and this is another masterful example that truly deserves to be called one of the best films, animated or otherwise, of 2010. Whether you're a fan of Tati, Chomet, or you're new to the films of both, you owe it to yourself to see this film. It's a masterpiece and a wonderful addition to Tati's legacy.