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Saturday, 25 February 2012

Film throwbacks - silence is golden

D. S. Mills comments on two exceptional silent films - The Artist and The Illusionist.

There has been great acclaim for The Artist - that meticulously constructed souffle based on the end of the silent film era. It features bravura performances by Jean Dulardin and his delightful co-star - performances almost eclipsed by John Goodman's cameo of the indulgent movie mogul - a portrayal that persists like a blessing long after the end titles roll.

Not so top-of-mind is a far greater contemporary 'silent' film - again with a French connection - the exquisitely drawn and executed The Illusionist directed by Sylvain Chomet and based on a script by the inimitable Jacques Tati. 

The contrast between these two is clear. The first is exceptional, the second superb.

There are many excellent and accomplished films but superb examples are few. Some early ones come to mind.  City LightsWild Strawberries

Although brilliant films - for example, Day for Night or Das Boot - carry their own lustre, they are outshone by a pellucid gem such as Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. And, more recently, the truly evocative, As It Is In Heaven. And that most adult of films, The Lives of Others. It is among these superlative films that The Illusionist should be placed.

The Illusionist, oddly,  is a cartoon. No CGI shadows here. The thing has been drawn. And magnificently so.  And it recreates the late Jacques Tati with masterful splendour and nuance. 

A French magician travels to the wildest part of Scotland to entertain the yokels in the local pub. Around this simple plot is woven heart stopping beauty.

Like all great examples of the art, the film is impossible to describe. Superlatives are mere labels.  It has to be seen to be believed.

I saw it at the end of its run in the Wurlitzer infested main theatre of the Cremorne Orpheum. There were a sprinkling of other witnesses. All sat dumbstruck at the end.

Tati never lived to star in this production but this brilliant graphic recreation extends him beyond the grave.  Do all you can to see this film. It is available on DVD but make sure it is in a scanning format your player supports, as some copies are NTSC.