Anna and I have seen a wonderful animated movie to the cinema, which I thought was never distributed in Italy. It’s “L’Illusioniste” the latest film by Sylvain Chomet, the director of the famous “Les Tripplettes de Belleville,” which was nominated in 2004 for two Academy Awards ®.
In 2001, at the time of “Les Tripplettes de Belleville”, Sylvain Chomet had the idea to insert in a sequence, a scene from Tati’s “Jour de fête” So, he contacted the Foundation Tati, directed by the daughter of him, Sophie Tatischeff (french director and editor), for approval. After seeing a sketches portfolio, she not only gave his approval, but spoke to Chomet about a project never realized by her father, expressing the opinion that the Chomet’s graphic style could be suitable for it. In fact, she thought that no actor could ever effectively replace her father in the interpretation but, paradoxically, an animated film could have been more faithful.
So, Sylvain Chomet had the opportunity to read the script of the Jacques Tati’s movie ever made, written by him between 1956 and 1959. Chomet had the impression that the Russian-born French actor had not pursued the project because it was a very autobiographical story. Also, he realized that it was perfect for an animated film.
Began the challenge to “revive” Jacques Tati like a cartoon. In the order to do this, they haven’t only been carefully studied all the films of the actor, but were also interviewed some of his acquaintances to better understand the Tati’s personality. Fortunately, he recited almost entirely through gestures, like a mime so, to capture its essence, the chief animator Laurent Kircher (who has previously worked with Chomet in “Les triplettes de Belleville) focused on how to succeed in making his walking and the movement of his hands and head.
In addition, they tried to be faithful to the type of Tati’s film shots, ie a fixed “long shot“, into which the characters move. However, being an animated film, this was a real complication: the attention to details drawing had to be much higher than usual.
Since his first short films, Chomet is a 2D animation’s fan, with a preference for the 1960’s Disney animated films.
“My insistence about the hand-drawn 2D drawing is based on the belief that this technique gives an eternal fascination to the art, ensuring to the the story the pleasure of being watched at all times, even in those where there’s little action,” says Chomet. “The strength of 2D resides, in my mind, in the fact it vibrates, changes, is never equal or perfect, just as reality. The imperfections are important when you’re measuring with a story about human beings. Add realism and truth to make it more powerful. All the 2D work is made by human beings. The computer graphics are just for robots and toys rather than human beings. I want to see on the screen the work of an artist, not that of a machine whose views are sorted, bright, sharp. I prefer to imagine myself with my pencil than with a computer. You lose something of indefinable working with computers. “
To put together the eighty persons of the main studio, it was necessary to look across Europe 2D animators, hand drawing skills. In the 3D domination era, it was an almost extinct species.
However, in “Le Illusioniste,” there’s also a modest use of 3D animation, for those elements that the director felt that they were worth three-dimensional, such as vehicles and an aerial view of Edinburgh in one of the final sequences.
By the way, the setting in Edinburgh, is the only difference from the original script. Tati had imagined the story should take place in Prague, but Chomet, after a visit, thought that it was not the right location. Instead, he was very impressed by Edinburgh, for its natural changing light. So, he moved with his wife in that city and opened there his Django Films studio, to produce “Le Illusioniste“.
Meanwhile, Sophie Tatischeff was dead, and Chomet, to give a guarantee to the Foundation Tati about the fidelity to the script, spent one year on the realization of an “animatic”, an animated demo of the whole movie. In addition, Chomet has personally supervised the soundtrack, as it did for “Les Tripplettes de Belleville.” To do this, were composed french vaudeville songs and 1950’s british pop style tracks.
The final result of five years of work, is a poetic and surprising film, with drawings that enchant and backgrounds that you have all the time to observe and admire. A film infused with a lightness, that the movies today have no longer. Above all, a movie where Jacques Tati back to life, in the guise of a magician, to give us once again his magic: that of being able to smile even in the melancholy.