Film review – The Illusionist (2010)

18 August 2011

The IllusionistWith his combination of physical comedy, sentiment and social critique, Jacques Tati is often regarded as the French Charlie Chaplin. The Illusionist is an animated feature based on an unproduced script Tati wrote in 1956 about a magician struggling to find work in an age when pop music has become the dominant form of entertainment. Eventually arriving in Edinburgh with an impressionable Scottish girl and an angry rabbit as his companions, he encounters other forgotten vaudeville performers making one last attempt to practise their craft.

Director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) brings Tati’s persona to life beautifully in the character of the magician, capturing his awkward physicality and the way he never seems to fit into the modern world. Less a playful critique of modernity, as found in Tati’s films Mon Oncle and Play Time, The Illusionist is more a lamentation for the end of the music hall era. Funny, sweet, nostalgic and ultimately heartbreaking, it is a gorgeous tribute to Tati that he no doubt would have loved.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 386, 2011

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2010 Wrap Up

9 August 2010
Enter the Void

Enter the Void

As another Melbourne International Film Festival closes I’m left with mixed feelings. It is admittedly somewhat of a relief to no longer be dashing from session to session every day, not getting enough sleep, not eating properly and drinking way too much caffeine. On the other hand, I do feel sad that it’s all over as it is wonderful to indulge in 2 and a half weeks of doing what I love the most – seeing films, writing about films and talking about films to other passionate cinephiles. It was also a thrill to be one the jury members for the short films awards this year. Being just a very small part of the festival in that way was a real privilege.

I was overall extremely impressed with the way the festival was run and I don’t believe that there were any mishaps (or miffhaps?) that were not understandable considering the immense logistics behind putting on a festival like this. Sure, there will sometimes be delays and projection problems  but this year everything seemed to be rectified and managed quickly and competently. Having proper breaks between sessions was also wonderful. My only wish is that you could exchange tickets online or at least over the phone without paying an addition charge on top of the exchange fee. It would also be great (but perhaps unrealistic I admit) to create a system where you don’t get charged for cancelling a session but instead only get charged for replacing a session. That way tickets would be freed up when people decide to skip a screening completely.

Son of Babylon

Son of Babylon

My goodness – bless the MIFF volunteers who do such an incredible job with a love of the festival being their main motivation. Having worked professionally on another cultural festival, I am fully aware of how hard volunteers work and that they can sometimes be under-appreciated. Fortunately the general public seemed to be pretty well behaved this year and I only witnessed one temper tantrum, which was so absurd it was actually quite funny (looking at you man who declared that the whole country was apparently incompetent because you had to wait an extra 20 minutes to see a film).

So, onto the films themselves, first with a list of my top 10 favourite films that screening during the festival:

Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010)
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2010)
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010)

World on a Wire

World on a Wire

I would also like to mention that the final film I saw at the festival, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, was a tremendous amount of fun and I’m glad I finished the festival with such an exhilarating film. I also thoroughly enjoyed the three retrospective screenings I went to, which were Psycho with the live orchestra, Joe Dante’s Homecoming and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire.

My full list of films seen at the festival is as follows:

Air Doll (Kûki ningyô, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Alamar (Pedro González-Rubio, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (Jessica Oreck, 2009) ✭✭✩
Bibliothèque Pascal (Szabolcs Hajdu, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Brotherhood (Broderskab, Nicholo Donato, 2009) ✭✭✭
Caterpillar (Kyatapirâ, Kôji Wakamatsu, 2010) ✭✭
Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2010) ✭✭✭
Dreamland (Ivan Sen, 2009) ✭✭✭
Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
Exodus – Burnt by the Sun 2 (Utomlyonnye solntsem 2, Nikita Mikhalkov, 2010) ✭✩
Four Lions (Christopher Morris, 2009) ✭✭✭
The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Homecoming (Joe Dante, 2005) ✭✭✭✭
The Housemaid (Hanyo, Im Sang-soo, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Hunter (Rafi Pitts, 2010) ✭✭✩
I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère, Xavier Dolan, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010) ✭✭✭✭✩
Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee (Shane Meadows, 2009) ✭✭
Leap Year (Año bisiesto, Michael Rowe, 2010) ✭✭
Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, 2009) ✭✭✭
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell, 2009) ✭✭✩
Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Psycho (Alfred Hitchock, 1960) ✭✭✭✭✭
Red Hill (Patrick Hughes, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Robber (Der Räuber, Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010) ✭✭✭
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright) ✭✭✭✭
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (Mat Whitecross, 2010) ✭✭✭
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Special Relationship (Richard Loncraine, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (Omar Majeed, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola, 2009) ✭✭✭
The Tree (Julie Bertucelli, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
The Trotsky (Jacob Tierney, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
The Wedding Party (Amanda Jane, 2010) ✭✭
Welcome to the Rileys (Jake Scott, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Wild Target (Jonathan Lynn, 2010) ✭✭✩
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
World on a Wire (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973) ✭✭✭✭
World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009) ✭✭✭✭

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Finally, MIFF this year was extremely sociable and I had a great time drinking and chatting with friends between sessions and making new friends while waiting for the curtains to part. I should really have done this much sooner but below is a shout-out to some of the other places online where MIFF has been discussed and digested. This list is be no means exhaustive and I apologise if I’ve left you off but I wanted to focus on people whom I actually spent time with in person in various queues, cinemas and the festival lounge. So, thanks to the following people for enriching my MIFF experience both online and in person:

Tara Judah at Liminal Vision
Cerise Howard at A Little Lie Down
Richard Watts at A Man About Town
Lee Zachariah (a.k.a. Latauro) at Ain’t It Cool News
Luke Buckmaster at Cinetology
David O’Connell at Screen Fanatic

That’s it for another year! Please feel free to list your blog/website in the comments if you’ve also covered MIFF and escaped my radar. Also, please feel free to share your MIFF highlights and maybe on this occasion it would be good to maintain the MIFF afterglow by just focusing on the films that you can share the love for.

Cheers
Thomas

PS It’s pronounced “FASS-bin-der” not “Fass-BIND-er”!

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Part 6

1 August 2010

One of the two things I do each year to take a break from the intense experience that MIFF can be is to see a non-MIFF film; something very B-grade or very Hollywood. This year I went to the media screening of Salt, which didn’t really deliver the guilty pleasure respite that I was hoping for so was a bit of a waste of time. My other break-from-MIFF activity is to attend some kind of live performance and this year I went to see Stephen Fry, which was one the most entertaining and inspiring nights I have experienced for a long time. The wisdom and stories that Fry shared actually complemented MIFF, and the types of films that such a festival champions, as he is so passionate about culture, intellectual curiosity and the importance of self expression.

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Back to the festival. On Friday night I saw I Love You Phillip Morris, which is essentially a con-man film, with some similarities to Catch Me If You Can, but with a warm love story at its heart and a very wicked sense of humour. Jim Carrey gives a terrific performance as the extroverted con-man who does what he does to fund the lifestyle he shares with his sweet and shy partner Phillip Morris, played beautifully by Ewan McGregor. Carrey and McGregor have incredibly chemistry and are completely convincing as a couple. You will gasp at some of the subject matter that this film draws laughs from but that’s part of its brilliance. The distributors in Australia and other countries who are nervously sitting on this film for whatever reason (surely in 2010 they’re not worried about the gay content?) need to give this film the wide release that it deserves or pass on the distribution rights to a company that can handle a film like this.

[EDIT 1/4/2011: Read a full review of I Love You Phillip Morris]

The new film by Francis Ford Coppola, Tetro, is about estranged brothers reuniting in Buenos Aires. Tetro is gorgeously shot in crisp black-and-white, full depth-of-field cinematography. For the most part it is a steadily paced drama with faint echoes of John Cassavetes in the way it gives a sense of vibrancy to the everyday lives of the people who occupy the various locations the film is set in. However, the final section of the film moves it from drama to melodrama so that ultimately a very good film is let down by a flabby ending. Vincent Gallo is great in the lead role, demonstrating just how photogenic he is and just how suited he is to playing such disagreeable characters.

The Illusionist

The Illusionist

Many people will check out the animated feature The Illusionist because it is directed by Sylvain Chomet of The Triplets of Belleville fame. That is a good enough reason in itself but my own interest was more it do with the fact that it is based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script. It is only in the past five years that Tati has become one of my favourite filmmakers and I was delighted by how well The Illusionist captures both the look of Tati’s films and his favourite theme of how modernity is sweeping away a way of life that was simpler and purer. The animated character of the magician looks and moves exactly like Tati, provoking plenty of laughs. The defining aspect of Tati’s onscreen persona is the idea that he can’t fit into the world around him. This facilitates lots of great physical comedy but also the incredibly sad nostalgic sentiment that the time of old-school entertainers is over. The Illusionist is a wonderful and a fitting tribute to the great Jacques Tati.

[EDIT 18/8/2011: Read a full review of The Illusionist]

I went to see Welcome to the Rileys mainly because of James Gandolfini and he certainly gives a fine performance as a man who is still coming to terms with the death of his teenage daughter. He befriends and takes is upon himself to look after an underage stripper played by Kristen Stewart, in a role even grittier than the one she played in The Runaways. When Melissa Leo’s character enters the narrative more substantially, the film gets even more interesting as it explores the situation of a middle-class America couple wanting to ‘save’ an underprivileged teenager. Welcome to the Rileys has some similarities to The Blind Side, as both films explore a similar scenario, but Welcome to the Rileys is more complex, less conservative, less offensive and an overall far superior film.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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