The Illusionist – Tati Rides Again

I have just seen a full length animated film of a story by Jacques Tati (of M. Hulot fame) called The Illusionist, and I have to tell you it is superb!


This curious film, which was made by Sylvain Chomet, who also made that very odd animated film The Triplets of Belleville is based on a script that Tati wrote many years earlier, and was a sort of long apology to his estranged illegitimate daughter apparently.

The story line is about an illusionist whose career in the music halls of Paris is slowly but surely going downhill, as a result of which he finds himself performing on a remote Scottish island (watch the film to find the logic in this!), where he is sort of adopted by a young woman who is a cleaner in the hotel he lives in.. and the rest of the film is really about his efforts to look after her, provide for her and generally act as a father to her – no suggestion of a sexual relationship.

In January 2010, The Manchester Guardian published the article “Jacques Tati’s lost film reveals family’s pain” stating,

“In 2000, the screenplay was handed over to Chomet by Tati’s daughter,Sophie Tatischeff two years before her death. Now, however, the family of Tati’s illegitimate and estranged eldest child, Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel, who lives in the north-east of England, are calling for the French director to give her credit as the true inspiration for the film. The script of L’illusionniste, they say, was Tati’s response to the shame of having abandoned his first child [Schiel] and it remains the only public recognition of her existence.

All of this is profound and no doubt intriguing stuff for film history buffs, but for the rest of us, this film can – and should – be seen for what it also is, which is a highly entertaining, very odd and eccentric animated film made for adults, that is not scary, bloody, full of monsters or in any way nasty, simply a film with likeable and understandable characters.   And the most wonderful animation.  None of your cheap and badly made TV animations here, but animation of the highest order.  It is a real pleasure simply to watch the work of world class animators.

The animators have exactly caught the way Jacques Tati moved – his awkward leaning forward way of walking, and his well known hands high on his hips and leaning forward as he talks to people…   All his mannerisms have been beautifully reproduced here…. instantly recognisable character.

You can see what I mean about both the story line and the quality of the animation in this trailer for the film.

So, if you admire the work of Jacques Tati, or simply enjoy well made adult animated films, then this is certainly a film you should see, if you can find it online or in the video stores.

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