His Master’s Voice: a Cartoon Homage to Jaques Tati

Kaleem Aftab in The National:

It was a request to use some footage from the Jacques Tati’s classic Jour de Féte that led to Sylvain Chomet being given the opportunity to make The Illusionist, a screenplay written by the legendary French filmmaker, who died from lung cancer in 1982.

There is a scene in Chomet’s 2003 animated film Triplets of Belleville where the principal characters are watching television, and Chomet thought that it would be more interesting and surprising if the characters were watching a live action movie. It immediately struck him that he should use footage from the man who is famous for making the universe look like a cartoon, the great master Jacques Tati.

To get permission to use footage wrote to the head of Tati’s estate, his daughter Sophie Tatischeff. He explains: “We had to show her some elements of Triplets, some graphics, the script, when it was only around a third done. Sophie said she really liked the idea and the style and everything and it made her think about this script written by her dad that had never been made.

“For her this script was really important because it was a message from a father to his daughter. She didn’t want the film to be done in live action, as she didn’t want someone else to play her dad’s role, so she thought it would be perfect as a cartoon. So just four months before she died – she died like her father of lung cancer, because they’re really heavy smokers – I finished Triplets and on my way to Cannes to present Triplets, I read the Tati script and fell in love with it. I never got to meet Sophie, or even speak to her about the script.”

The Illusionist is about a once popular stage magician who upon reaching the latter stages of his career realises that audiences are more interested in emerging rock stars than his vaudeville show.