My review of “The Illusionist.”

Playtime’s over

A “tetral­ogy” is a suc­ces­sion of 4 the­atri­cal plays, specif­i­cally 3 tragedies and a satir­i­cal com­edy that pokes fun at the pre­vi­ous sto­ries. In his lat­est ani­mated film, based on a story by Jacques Tati, Syl­vain Chomet has turned the con­cept on it’s head. Tati gave us a series of come­dies, and Chomet deliv­ers the melan­cholic epi­gram “The Illusionist”.

The film is beau­ti­ful to look at, with an aston­ish­ing char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Tati. He is a hybrid of Tati and his most famous screen per­sona, Mr. Hulot. If one wants to res­ur­rect dead celebri­ties for movies, for­get the dig­i­tal repro­duc­tions and hire Chomet. He has the dis­tinct move­ment of Hulot, but is clearly not the happy go lucky man beloved by his fans. I found it trou­bling to watch him smoke cig­a­rettes instead of his trade­mark pipe, but I imag­ine that I am intended to feel that way. This is a trou­bled character.

His career as a stage magi­cian in music halls is fail­ing along with the other vari­ety actors he shares the hotels with. When a Scot­tish girl stows away to become a kind of step daugh­ter to him, he strug­gles to pay for the pretty clothes she desires. As a fan of Tati, this is the most dif­fi­cult aspect of the story to accept. All of Tati’s pre­vi­ous films were about enjoy­ing life, and not becom­ing caught up in mate­ri­al­ism and work. It is a denial of his legacy. The film includes a ref­er­ence to “Mon Oncle”, a Tati film where he plays the fun lov­ing uncle with no respon­si­bil­i­ties. I have had the plea­sure of being an uncle to young chil­dren, and the wor­ries of being a par­ent. If I go to a movie about being parental, I would like it be a more remark­able story.

The girl is drawn to the old magi­cian because he appears to cre­ate a pair of red shoes out of thin air. The man has merely given her some new shoes out of char­ity, but from then on she sees him as some sort of sugar daddy. I do not recall him appear­ing to enjoy her com­pany very much, he always appears dis­tracted. So it is hard to say they have a real rela­tion­ship. Also, the story begins with the magi­cian already on his way down, and there is lit­tle hope the tra­jec­tory will reverse.  The Hulot char­ac­ter was not a tra­di­tional pro­tag­o­nist, in that he didn’t inten­tion­ally make things hap­pen.  And here is where the film fails for me.   There just isn’t very much drama.

Tati may have writ­ten the orig­i­nal story, but it is hard to imag­ine him actu­ally mak­ing it. For it to fall to Chomet to deliver the sor­row­ful per­spec­tive, was prob­a­bly a bless­ing for every­one involved.

One thought on “My review of “The Illusionist.”

  1. For me it was one of the most excit­ing ani­mated films to come along in sev­eral years.
    Hard to fol­low at times because of the French dia­log, but won­der­ful just the same. And visu­ally stun­ning. I am sorry to hear that Syl­vain Chomet left 2d to per­sue live action.

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