<strong>MOVIE MAGIC:</strong>  Animator Sylvain Chomet directed, co-wrote, and scored this charming and bittersweet film, based on a script by Jacques Tati, about a struggling magician who takes a girl under his wing.

MOVIE MAGIC: Animator Sylvain Chomet directed, co-wrote, and scored this charming and bittersweet film, based on a script by Jacques Tati, about a struggling magician who takes a girl under his wing.

The Illusionist

The voices of Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin, and Duncan MacNeil star in this animated film, written by Jacques Tati, Henri Marquet and Sylvain Chomet, and directed by Chomet.

Because it’s impossible to watch a film through the brain and sensibility of another, it’s hard for any diehard Jacques Tati fan (present company included) to guess at the experience of a non-Tati fan watching the wonderful, warm, and bittersweet animated film The Illusionist. One of the more charming items on the menu at the recent Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the film—the latest from handmade animator Sylvain (The Triplets of Belleville) Chomet—no doubt has implicit appeal, with its shaggy-sweet tale of an aging magician on tour in a changing world, with a young woman in tow, embodying innocence bridging into experience.

But the film also sports an unusual and poignant backstory, as both a latter-day extension of the filmography of the late, great Tati (in his lanky, ambling, gently absurd Monsieur Hulot role), and the afterlife of animation. More tellingly, and touchingly, the film is based on an unmade script by Tati, which he reputedly wrote as a paean to his estranged daughter, whom he planned to feature in the film. In animated form, Tati’s impish, man-of-few-words charm comes to life, once removed, on the screen here; and a cinematic in-joke pops up late in the film, as our protagonist ducks into a movie theater where the 1958 Tati masterpiece Mon Oncle is screening—the one medium-leaping live-action moment in the film.

Beyond the strong links to Tati—the man, the myth, and the cinema genius—The Illusionist is another great example of Chomet’s power as a filmmaker. Here, he employs a labor-intensive but fascinating old-school animation style, in an age when ones and zeroes rule the game. Just as the film’s late-career protagonist is finding his magic act upstaged by rock ‘n’ roll and other modern distractions, Chomet’s art is proudly anachronistic, and all the more impressive for that fact.

As the tale works its way to a sweetly melancholic finale, we recognize the humanity and gravitas at work beneath the surfaces of the visuals and the human story at hand here.

For showtimes, check the Independent's movie listings, here.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Biggest Storm Since 1/9 Approaching Santa Barbara

The storm system brings increased threat of flash floods and debris flows.

Jack Johnson Tours Montecito Disaster Area Ahead of Benefit Concert

Jack and Kim Johnson met with Bucket Brigade leaders to see the destruction firsthand.

Iron Chef Caused State Street Pedestrian Death

Famous Chef Larry Forgione charged with misdemeanor for driving into Gilbert Ramirez on February 24.

Lavagnino’s Sudden Victory

5th District supervisor a shoo-in as filing window closes; Gregg Hart also unopposed for 2nd District.

One Half of Old Town Streets to Get Sidewalks

Walkways planned for one side of Goleta neighborhood streets; parking, lighting talks at community meeting March 22.