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Friday, 28 January 2011 00:00

The Illusionist Casts a Magical Spell

The Illusionist Casts a Magical Spell
Written by Diane Carson
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Everyone who applauded The Triplets of Belleville will welcome director and animator Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist. The fabulous story behind the movie is that French comic director Jacques Tati had written a script that he never made into a live-action film. Chomet took Tati's original screenplay and, over four years, crafted this marvelous animated film.

The story centers on aging French magician Tati scrambling for bookings because, in 1959 Great Britain, rock and roll now rules music hall audiences. And so he travels from his home in Edinburgh to a small village in the Scottish highlands. Enamored of Tati's magic show and his kindness to her, teenage chambermaid Alice stows away when he leaves. After arriving in Edinburgh with Tati, she continues to cook and clean for him as she becomes increasingly mature and worldly wise. Alice cleans their living quarters with amusing run-ins with the act's rabbit and other entertainers in the building, frequents the music hall, and she falls in love while Tati continues to perform along with other humorous odd jobs.

While the magician resembles Tati's cinematic alter ego Monsieur Hulot, and certainly walks in the same awkward fits and starts, Chomet has said that he worked to make the magician a more realistic character. During a Q&A when I first saw The Illusionist at Telluride, I learned that Tati wrote scene summaries used for The Illusionist in the 50s but put them aside, consumed by his final film Playtime. When he died in 1982, the script languished until his daughter Sophie saw Chomet's work and passed the 66-page script on to him before her own death.

Chomet has overseen magnificent two dimensional, hand drawn animation with supplementary computer work and one scene-stopping snippet of live action. I wanted to stop the projector to feast on every frame, so vibrant and detailed are the drawings. With minimal dialogue but expressive sounds between the primary characters, The Illusionist is touching, charming, and droll comedy, something Tati would be proud to call his own. At Landmark's Tivoli Theatre.

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