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Sylvain Chomet The Master of The Illusionist

BY AYSEGUL SERT PHOTOGRAPHY PHILIPPE QUAISSE

 

Following the success of his Oscar-nominated animated film, The Triplets of Belleville (2003), director Sylvain Chomet triumphs once again with The Illusionist. “I would like people to get the same feeling that I got when I read the original script. A very powerful, almost indescribable emotion,” says Chomet in a phone interview from his home in France. Based on an unproduced script by mid-20th-century cinema legend Jacques Tati, The Illusionist tells the story of an aging magician in a fast-changing world and his newfound friendship with a young girl. “This film is about empathy. I think there was a deep sense of longing Tati felt when he wrote it,” explains Chomet. “I was on a train on my way to Cannes when I first read it.Sophie Tatischeff, Tati’s daughter, had approached me with the idea that my creative process and style would suit and match the story. She passed away shortly after.”

Visually stunning with an emotive plot and a striking score, The Illusionist is a delight for young and old. “I started my career doing comic books. Then I went to London and found a job in animation. I thought it was going to be too complicated, but I got to learn and fell for it,” he recalls. “Animation is about movement, it’s about music, it’s a full world. I’m amazed by the culture of animation that exists in the United States, Japan, and the U.K. These three countries are very open minded and create really high-quality work. In France, it is still not taken as seriously, which is unfortunate.”

When asked why we need animated films in our lives, Chomet responds enthusiastically, “We’re scared of death. We know we’re not eternal so we try to cope with life by creating. It’s like we’re trying to trick the Gods. First you have nothing, then you have something, and people believe in it. That’s why we love a good novel or a good film; it makes us believe.” It took Chomet and his crew over five years to complete The Illusionist, which was crafted with traditional animation. Did they encounter challenges along the way? “There are always so many,” he chuckles. “Animation can be frustrating. You work on images. It’s a slow and laborious process; you have to be patient. It is the greatest pleasure, sitting in my chair and realizing that the work is finished, that we’ve pushed our limits.”

Asked how he would describe himself, Chomet responds in a shy tone, “I’m a rural person; I’m not sophisticated. I see myself as a craftsman. My parents weren’t in show business so I had my share of hardships coming up to where I am today. I’m wary of talkers and fakes. I prefer doers to talkers. I strive for simplicity in my life.” ▼

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