Movies: The Illusionist * * *
(12A, limited release)
On the face of it, Jacques Tati and Sylvain Chomet seem the perfect double act. The great comic filmmaker did his best work in the 50s and early 60s, a period in French life with which Chomet seems obsessed.
In The Illusionist, Chomet has adapted an abandoned script of Tati's into a kind of animated tribute to his genius.
Tati came up with the idea for The Illusionist as a way of potentially reconciling with his eldest daughter, whom he had abandoned after her birth. And that should explain the rather odd relationship at the centre of this film.
Tatischeff (Tati's real name) is a down-at-heel French magician who accepts an offer to travel to the highlands of Scotland to do a gig. When he gets to the Outer Hebrides, he notices a poor young maid at his hotel, and feels so sorry for her he buys her a new pair of red shoes.
She, however, thinks he's conjured them from thin air and when he leaves for Edinburgh, she follows him.
There he tries to keep up with her enthusiasm for new clothes by double-jobbing, and a sweet but unsustainable father/ daughter relationship develops.
The Illusionist is peopled with circus acts and suicidal clowns, and seems to lament the loss of the old music halls after the advent of television.
This is typical Tati stuff: the comic was deeply suspicious of progress, and all things 'modern'.
But the problem with The Illusionist is we get all his usual themes and routines without the great man himself, and it was really him that made it all work.
Chomet's animation is at times beautiful, but the film is full of anachronistic touches and seems to take an almost perverse pleasure in its relentless glumness.