Chomet Talks The Illusionist
After paying direct homage to Jacques Tati in his acclaimed The Triplets of Belleville, it was serendipitous for Sylvain Chomet to tackle the unproduced Tati script, The Illusionist, about an elderly magician and young girl who reach new emotional depths together. Chomet was so taken with Scotland after presenting The Triplets of Belleville at the Edinburgh Film Festival that he decided to move there and set up a studio, Django Films. He discusses the making of The Illusionist (opening Christmas Day through Sony Pictures Classics), which has been shortlisted for an Oscar nomination and nominated for a Golden Globe.
Bill Desowitz: They often say what can be done in live action should not be animated, but The Illusionist is certainly an exception.
Sylvain Chomet: It could have been done as a live-action by Tati, but actually he couldn't play the magic show himself because of an accident with his left hand. He was longing to do the trick, but he couldn't do it and that's the reason he didn't do the film. But then when I was contacted by his daughter [Sophie Tatischeff], she didn't want someone else to do the role -- she didn't want it to be a live-action film. She thought that animation was the only way to do the film and could bring something very tangible and some real emotion. It's the reason I wanted to do the film. And also I thought that it was a big challenge for animation and I like big challenges. Yes, you're right: We should just animate what we can't do in live action, but I haven't seen many films like this in animation as well. And probably the only way to revise Jacques Tati in this film was through animation.
BD: Changing the location to Scotland, where you were already living, was probably the biggest aesthetic change. What was that like?
SC: For me it was easier to make this a bit more personal as well -- a bit more real by changing the location from Prague to Edinburgh because I thought there were a lot of elements in the scenery in Scotland which were really quite close to the story, especially the change of light and mystery. Scotland is a place of mystery, of magical legends and things like that. At the same time, I don't like to invent places, you know. I prefer to sketch what I'm watching and I was in Scotland at that time, so I was inside the backgrounds. And Edinburgh is a very important character.
BD: Yes, as you say, it evokes many things visually and thematically. It's on the cusp of change.
SC: It's 1959, and there was something that needed to be done on the streets. We needed to have a bright city and showing some nice shops and nice windows, and, at the same time, in some very remote places where they just had electricity.