Film Review: The Illusionist (2010)

The screenplay for Sylvain Chomet’s wistful second feature was written by the legendary French film comedian, Jacques Tati, in 1956.  Tati composed amusing comedies such as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, filled them with gags, and avoided inserting dialogue.  His comedic methods resembled those of the silent film greats, Chaplin and Keaton, and he was more pleasant than funny.

Tati intended for The Illusionist to be live action, but the tall Frenchman died in 1983 without making any more steps toward starting the project.  Nearly 30 years later, director Chomet has developed an animated film from Tati’s script.  I doubt very much that the result is what the comedian himself had in mind while writing it, yet The Illusionist still has all the richness and charm of a Tati film made in the ’50s.  There is minimal dialogue, there is a clumsy, lovable main character, and best of all, he greatly resembles Tati.

Sadly though, this film could fail to satisfy most audiences looking for something as story-driven as a Pixar film.  It comes off shy and unimportant, but one of its strengths lies in the masterful animation.  The story is not one of intrigue, nonetheless, the movie is totally atmospheric.  It does not use the bright, flashy colors of Pixar’s features, resorting to a darker variety that creates a more mature feel.  Both characters and settings are detailed and attractive, and the best moments are those when we see city lights from high above.  Because of the great artwork and score, I regret that I missed out on seeing The Illusionist in theaters.

There is so much visual and emotional mastery just in the short time of one hour and twenty minutes that I feel that I didn’t soak it all up.  Nevertheless, it left me with too somber of a mood to make me want to watch it a second time.  Perhaps if the end would feature the Illusionist finding his rightful place in society while the wonderfully jazzy theme plays in the background.  Maybe then would it feel completely satisfying.  Instead, Tati insists on reminding viewers that he is dead.  He will bring no more laughs.  He tells us that we must enjoy what life we have before it is taken away.  With that final entry, Tati’s life’s work at last seems fully complete.

Rating: 3.5/5

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