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“The Illusionist,” Reviewed

“The Illusionist,” Reviewed (photo)

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There’s one fundamental question that always has to be asked when the subject turns to great filmmakers’ “lost” scripts: why was the script lost? In the case of “The Illusionist,” a script written (but never filmed) by the great French director Jacques Tati, press notes tell us that the material “was far too serious a subject for his persona and he chose to make the classic ‘Playtime’ instead.” That’s another reason why you should never doubt the instincts of a master: “Playtime” is one of the greatest movie comedies ever made, while the new film of “The Illusionist,” adapted animated by the talented French cartoonist Sylvain Chomet, is a beautiful looking mess.

If that quote — which is actually from Chomet himself — in the press notes is true, then Tati sensed that his Monsieur Hulot character, the genial bumbler he played in his films, was all wrong for “The Illusionist.” And another quote from Chomet states that “because the character of The Illusionist is definitely not another Monsieur Hulot, Sophie Tatischeff [Tati’s daughter and executor of his estate] didn’t want to see any of that character’s familiar trademarks dramatized by another actor.” So instead Chomet’s “Illusionist” casts an animated version of Hulot — or at least Tati — in the lead role of Tatischeff, a touring magician eking out a meager living as the show business landscape changes all around him.

From a technical perspective, Chomet’s work is uncanny: he has created an utterly believable cartoon Tati. HIs movements, gestures, and posture are so perfect, you might think that Chomet had managed to motion capture Tati before he’d passed away. But Chomet only captures the form of Tati without much of the function. I have to agree with Tati’s initial assessment of his own work: Hulot doesn’t really belong in this story, and his presence in “The Illusionist” makes it feel like a weak movie by Tati instead of a solid one by Chomet.

The primary relationship in the film is between Tatischeff and a naive young girl named Alice, who works as a barmaid in a tiny Scottish village. Increasingly out of place in music halls, where rock and roll bands are all the rage and sleight-of-hand gags are totally passé, the Illusionist embarks on a tour in search of more appreciative audiences. Alice is certainly that; she actually believes Tatischeff’s illusions are genuine magic. Enchanted, she follows him to his next gig in Edinburgh where she learns about the world while Tatischeff tries to satisfy her desires by “magically” giving her all of her heart’s desires (while secretly working many jobs to afford her appetites).

The best scenes in the film are the early ones, where the Illusionist watches helplessly as rock and roll destroys his livelihood. In these scenes Tatischeff doesn’t represent Tati; he represents Chomet, the 2D cel animator in a world increasingly overrun by 3D and computer generated imagery. And just as he did in the enchanting “Triplets of Belleville,” Chomet makes a compelling case for classical cel animation as an artform that’s still capable of producing uniquely gorgeous imagery. But he loses me when Tatischeff finds Alice. Their relationship is intended to play as bittersweet and whimsical, but mostly he seems sad and she seems dumb, and even a little cruel.

Tati was no stranger to comedies with tragic dimensions. But his comedies were still funny, sometimes hysterically so. “The Illusionist” is more cute than hilarious, and watching Tati in it I kept waiting for him stop simply resembling the director I love and start delighting me as he does in his own films. Maybe that was an unreasonable expectation. But I have to think if Tati saw “The Illusionist,” he’d wonder the same thing.

“The Illusionst” opens in limited release on December 25.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…