I would not be the first and may very well be the last, person to notice just how astounding the resurrection done on Tati is in The Illusionist. In a film itself so devoted to tricks, the raising of the dead somehow seems very appropriate. And yet the completeness of it truly boggles the mind. Had Tati been alive in the era of motion capture (heaven forbid) it is doubtful the mimicry would have been much more impressive.
It simply looks like Tati is there on the screen, his weary dignity, his quiet reserve (reserve not being something animation is renowned for its ability to express) it is so amazing that you eventually stop paying attention to it, and just accept that, “Yep that’s Tati up there.” Which when you think about it, is even more incredible.
It probably helps that Tati is firmly one of those artists who I like and admire without loving on a truly personal level. Oh don’t get me wrong, he is certainly a genius he is simply not my genius (If someone where to make a film out of say one of Buster Keaton’s unused scripts I don’t doubt I’d have a much harder time getting into it). It’s in the little details carried over from his live action films, the way his height forces him to bow under low doorways, the polite but stiff formality in everything he does, the way his slightly overlarge hands and feet shift with agitation to express the worry that his stone face often does not.
The Illusionist is on the off chance you haven’t heard based on an old script of Tati’s about a music hall magician, whose time is rapidly passing in the age of Rock N’ Roll. He accepts his lot with said weary dignity moving from rented room to rented room, shoddy stage to shoddy stage, performing his enchantments for an increasingly disenchanted audience. Eventually he meets a young Scottish girl and takes her under his wing. She thinks his magic is real, rather then dissuade her he takes menial jobs to be able to provide her with gifts.
It’s an autumnal, melancholy film, neither term quite describing just how relentlessly, go for your guts depressing the film really is. Ironically I can’t help but think that in live action may have been nigh unbearable (Given that Tati voluntarily shelved the film, it was not as been reported his final script, perhaps he came to the same conclusion). It is only the liveliness of the filmmaking that makes a film about characters with so little liveliness left to them watchable without the aid of suicide prevention task force.
Which is where the film’s second genius comes into play. Director Chomet has made what is without exaggeration one of the most jaw droppingly lovely animated films I’ve ever seen. European animation normally strikes me as somewhat cold (The good folks at Aardman being a major exception.) but Chomet’s vision bustles with so much life and detail that it makes even his maniac Triplets Of Belleville seem staid (all while never once breaking the feeling austere meditiveness that is a must for a Tati film). He keeps so many simultaneous planes of action on going in every shot that there’s literally always something to see. Every detail is given the same amount of loving care. Tati’s rabbit alone, a bottom heavy, foul tempered wonder, could be used as a master class of character animation.
And yet for all the expressive effusive joy in it’s making (I haven’t even mentioned what it does with Edinborough) it’s the sense of loss that one is left with in The Illusionist. There is a moment where our lead character does not do a trick that was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen in a film produced last year. A moment where we see that something inside of him has winked out once and for all. There’s been a somewhat loud and acrimonious debate over whether the film portrays the remorse of the script, which was inspired by Tati’s abandonment and estrangement from his first child. I’m trying to fathom what cut of the film these people possibly could have seen. The Illusionist is a film that seems constructed almost entirely out of remorse. One made with the acute sensation of how much has been lost.
And now for something completely different. Bill R on The Kind Of Face You Hate has just published the only Oscar article you will need.