Nearly three decades after his death, French comic actor Jacques Tati has returned to the silver screen — starring in a movie he wrote that was never produced. If this sounds like sleight-of-hand, it is, in a way: The film is aptly titled “The Illusionist,” and it has been brought to life by the imagination and sensitivity of French animator Sylvain Chomet, who is best known for 2003’s “The Triplets of Belleville.”
The hand-drawn, 2-D “Illusionist” opened Saturday and may give Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” a run for its money this awards season. The New York Film Critics Circle named it 2010’s best animated film, and it has also been nominated for a Golden Globe, a Critics Choice award and five Annie awards. “The Illusionist,” Chomet said, is “kind of a letter from the sky from Jacques Tati.”
Tati, who died in 1982 at age 75, was France’s crown prince of comedy. Tall and gangly with an aquiline nose, he was a professional rugby player who found success as a mime in French music halls in the 1930s and ’40s. In 1949, Tati wrote, directed and starred in his first feature, “Jour de Fete,” a comedy about an inept rural postman who makes deliveries by bicycle. His career took off with 1953’s “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” in which he introduced his alter ego: Monsieur Hulot, a socially inept, clueless man who always wore a raincoat and hat and was rarely seen without his umbrella or pipe.
Tati played Hulot in 1958’s “Mon Oncle,” which won the foreign-language film Oscar; 1967’s elaborate “Playtime“; and 1971’s “Trafic.” His movies had very little dialogue, relying instead on brilliant gags and pitch-perfect sound effects to bring the stories to life. “The Illusionist,” written between 1956 and 1959, is far more dramatic and bittersweet than Tati’s feature comedies…
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— Susan King
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