Directed by Sylvain Chomet
Written by Jacques Tati (Adapted by Sylvain Chomet)
Every year it seems one animated film comes from out of nowhere to snatch up one of the treasured nominations for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. This year it was The Illusionist, which doesn’t come from nowhere, but rather from France, from the great minds of Sylvain Chomet and Jacques Tati. Chomet is familiar with crashing the Oscar party, earning a nod in 2004 for The Triplets of Belleville. And Tati may be a familiar name to movie buffs. He actually passed away many years ago, but was a treasured filmmaker, known for such films as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Playtime and Mon Oncle. Chomet dusted off an old Tati screenplay and delivers a film worthy of its nomination.
The story is about, you guessed it, an illusionist. This particular illusionist is working in Paris in the late 1950s and struggling to find work. He is also not getting any younger. In order to make some money, he travels to London, then on to Scotland when he can’t find work there. Once in Scotland, he becomes a hit in a small fishing village, but must, once again, move on to other potential jobs. He is secretly followed by a little girl from the village. Together, the two travel to Edinburgh, where the illusionist finds some work, and also gets a job on the side. The extra cash is important because he is treating the little girl to the lifestyle she has always dreamed of. Nice shoes, pretty dresses and overcoats, and living in a big city. But this relationship can’t last forever. He is getting older, as is she, and soon he will have to move on and she will find love, as little girls always seem to do.
The thing about this film is that there are no subtitles. Yes, it is a French film and it is set in England, but there are no subtitles, there is no need to be. The only dialogue in the film is either inaudible or in English. They mumble and speak in French and a little bit of English. Chomet does the talking here with his animation. The film, essentially, is a silent film. The story is told visually and done so in a brilliant manner. The hand drawn animation is unique and breathtaking. Chomet and his team know exactly how to express what they want and it is because of this that the film requires no dialogue and for this reason that the film is brilliant storytelling.
There is a music score to go along with it, also composed by Chomet, and also equally brilliant at expressing those things that the words do not. The story is fairly simple and easy to follow. The film is short, running under an hour and a half at 80 minutes. These petty things do not mean the film is any less of a masterpiece. It put me in a good mood. Some of the best films do this. The magic is not real, it is created by Sylvain Chomet in a manner that harkens back to the time when film made dreamers of us all. That time is now too, and we have Chomet, and we have Tati, to thank for that.