French film-maker Jacques Tati made just six feature length films in his lifetime, each celebrating his unique physical presence and magnetism. In 1956 the elegant performer wrote The Illusionist, a lost lament to his daughter Sophie whom he longed to know deeply. Tati’s work and fame kept him away from his family, The Illusionist never making it onto our screens until now. After making the visually stunning Belleville Rendez-vous, Sylvain Chomet was approached by Sophie herself just two years before her death. Chomet’s next project would be Tati’s most personal legacy.

A poignant, expressive and often hilarious film, it seems as if Chomet’s melancholic paintbrush was the perfect marriage to Tati’s tight choreography and sense of fun. We follow Jacques Tati himself, a stage entertainer in the twilight of his and indeed his trade’s time in the limelight, as he is forced to take on more and more obscure jobs in order to stay in a world he so clearly loves. His journey takes him to Edinburgh via London, Chomet’s eye sweeping across our beautiful landscape with remarkable passion and affection. Tati’s illusionist a lonesome soul, content in his own company but lacking heart. It’s when he meets a kindred spirit deep in the highlands that the film sparkles and Chomet’s palette fills with warmth.

With practically no dialogue (when it comes it’s mostly Gaelic or French) the film relies on its aesthetic beauty and simple story to please; yet still it delivers in droves. The sheer detail is at times overwhelming, every shot lit in cinematic style and every composition carefully constructed. Finding yourself marvelling at the changes in weather, the sound of birdsong or the reflection of a passing train becomes second nature. You could watch this ten times over and still pick up a hidden treasure or comedic delight. A film full to the brim of subtle mystery, aching with emotion and rich in colourful character, Tati and his daughter would be proud.

By Ian Roebuck


Originally published in issue 21 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. September 2010