Sylvain Chomet is a filmmaker who can be described in many ways, artist, storyteller, musician, animator, magician; it is hard to put just one label on what it is that this exciting young talent does on screen. Chomet burst onto the international scene in 2003 as the writer/director of the feature length animation Belleville Rendez-vous, in an era seemingly dominated by the C.G.I style of Pixar the film showed that nothing can match up to the beauty of hand drawn animation. But it was more than just the striking visuals of Belleville Rendez-vous that helped to set it apart from other animations of the modern era, it featured a fantastically touching story about a grandmother’s search for her kidnapped champion cyclist grandson, a story that managed to convey depth and emotion without ever using one single line of dialogue. It was Chomet’s inventive use of sound design that needs to be seen to be believed that allowed the film to appeal to such a wide international market.
Tragically despite the wide acclaim of Belleville Rendez-vous Chomet’s second feature length film The Illusionist received only a small cinema release last year, making it almost impossible to find. However this classic has now been released on DVD and for those who missed it on the big screen it has certainly proven to be worth the wait. The film is adapted from an autobiographical screenplay written by French magician Jacques Tati. Tati’s script tells the sad tale of a magician during the dying days of cabaret. Replaced by pop bands and television the magician leaves the theatres of Paris in search of work in Scotland where he befriends a young girl who believes that the aging performer truly is blessed with magical powers. The script sat untouched for decades until it was discovered by Chomet, who saw in it the opportunity to explore his own world of magic, using an art form that like cabaret has seen itself phased out by flashy young upstarts.
Like his previous feature The Illusionist relies more on visuals and sound to tell the story than dialogue, characters speak in garbled Scottish accents or mumbled French that again serves to offer a film that has no real borders. Once again Chomet has created a beautiful world, eschewing the highly stylized look of Belleville Rendez-vous for a more naturalistic approach that still manages to carry the unique style of a Chomet animation. Like its predecessor The Illusionist is a deeply touching film, however this is mostly definitely a story aimed at adults rather than children. It deals with themes that at times are often heartbreaking and complex, and introduces us to a host of characters who are suffering as the magical world in which they exist falls into decline. Some have called the film depressing, but they are missing the point, The Illusionist manages to cover the whole range of emotions within one film. You will laugh, you will cry, and it is a testament to Chomet’s skill as a storyteller that he can make you feel these emotions in such quick succession with hand drawn characters who deliver performances that would put most of today’s actors to shame. For anyone who is lucky enough to see this film there can be no doubt that sometimes, magic truly does exist.
Review by Elliot Hyams