Last night a few friends and I went to see a new animated film called The Illusionist (by Sylvian Chomet, based on a screenplay by Jacques Tati). It basically tells the story of a sadsack magician trying to make his way in a world that has less and less appreciation for his talents. He moves from town to (ever more remote) town playing small gigs and barely making a living. After showing kindness to a girl in a particularly remote part of Scotland, she follows him, moves in with him, and makes a lot of financial demands on his life. The animation is this film is amazing, especially in the play of light and movement, but also with regard to the caricatured movements of human beings. And there are numerous funny sight gags delivered with great subtlety and finesse.
The plot, however, is another matter entirely. This story was supposedly dedicated to Jacques Tati’s first child, whom he abandoned. When you hear that, you think it might be some sort of touching apologia, but really the character of the young girl in the film is a horrid stereotype of modern consumer (one of Tati’s obsessions) mixed in with the using personality type of a heroin addict. She takes the sad magician for all he is worth with an ever growing set of things she demands that he buy for her. In the end he sets his rabbit free, and leaves her with a sad note about magicians not existing in the world. The note might as well have said “the gravy train is over”. The girl then finds her way into the arms of a young man she will coax into buying her things and taking care of her. It was a pretty sexist representation of women, dressed up in the mores of another era (the late 50s). Trying to decode this film as either Tati’s excuse for the shittiness of abandoning his daughter or even just taking the story at face value makes no difference. This is a misanthropic, depressing picture of the world. Reviewers seem to love it, lauding it as “touching”. I suppose it is touching, in the same way that watching someone be tortured is touching.