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Sylvain Chomet

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Sylvain Chomet film still

The Illusionist director discusses his love for traditional storytelling, hand-drawn animation and Scotland.

Sylvain Chomet announced himself with The Triplets of Belleville, the impossibly detailed animated film that garnered two Oscar nominations without a computer graphic in sight. Since then, Hollywood studios have been falling over each other to try and get him to swap Paris for Beverly Hills, but instead he chose Edinburgh, where he established the animation studio Django Films.

His new film The Illusionist, the product of several million hours work and a budget of £10 million, is an adaption of the great French director Jacques Tati’s last, unmade script and a love letter to the rugged beauty of the old Scottish city. It opened this year's Edinburgh Film Festival and hit UK cinemas last week. He talked to LWLies about his love of Tati’s films, why he chose to set the film in Edinburgh and his plans to move away from animation to make live action films.

LWLies: We understand Jacques Tati’s daughter approached you and asked you to make The Illusionist?

Chomet: Yes, well we approached her when we were doing The Triplets of Belleville in Montreal because we needed to get some footage from one of Tati’s films, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, to put in Triplets, so one of our producers in France actually contacted Sophie Tatischeff to get some of this material. We showed her some elements of Triplets and then she had this idea that my kind of animation, my graphic style, would work really well with her Dad’s script. I was supposed to meet her two months later but she died in the meantime so I never met her, or even got to talk to her on the phone, so it was a very brief encounter. When Triplets was finished I was going to Cannes to present the film and I asked the producer to pass me the script so I could read it on the train. I was not really keen on doing an animation of someone else’s work because I already had my own projects and wanted to write my own films, so I read the script and I was thinking ‘I hope its not good’ because I could say I understand why Tati didn’t do it and then say ‘No, that’s not for me, thank you very much,’ and carry on with my own projects. But it wasn’t the case. I completely fell in love with the script, and at that time it wasn’t something I completely wanted to do, I really wanted to do a film about a father and a daughter relationship.

Do you really see it as a simple father and daughter story? Because there is a sexuality there as well, which was covert and latent, but it was there. Do you not see this at all?

In the original script maybe it was a bit more obvious because the woman character was a bit older. When Tati originally wrote the script he actually contacted a woman to play the role and she really looked like Brigitte Bardot, and she was a model for Picasso at the time. It was during the early beginnings of Brigitte Bardot and she was strikingly the same. This women is still alive and she lives in the South of England and she is a painter, so that’s the big difference, and when I saw her portraits of her, by Picasso actually, I didn’t use it. I didn’t go in that direction because Bardot became amazingly famous in the meantime and there was no way I would use a character that looked like her. So I went for something a bit more experimental. My daughter was 12 when I started the film and now she’s 18, so I had to make it a bit less sexual, although there are some elements in the film when you think something might happen...

When they’re in the house together, you wonder whether he will step through into the bedroom or vice versa. It always seems possible.

Which she does at the end of the film when he comes home and he’s drunk, and he does step into the bedroom but then realises that something has happened, but not with Tati. I think Tati was very shy with his relationships to women. Even in his own movies, there were a lot of pretty women around, but the character was always very shy with them.

How long have you found Tati an inspiration, and when did you first discover him?

Since I was born he was around, he’s just a part of French culture and I can’t really say when the first time I even saw a film by Tati, it was just like the air you breathe. When I got older, and particularly when I started work on this film, I really started to look at the details of his art.

Did anything strike you or surprise you?

What I discovered is the way he was filming was very special because Tati wasn’t really born with the camera in his hand and I don’t think he thought of doing cinema in his early days because he was a musical artist. So he had a way to shoot, he was basically shooting a scene; it was very theatrical or very musical, just setting a camera and not moving everything. You could always see their feet as they dance, never any close ups. The camera is never really telling the story; the story is on the screen, in the frame.

Considering this was Tati's script and considering his role in French culture, how much did you feel a weight of responsibility here?

I tried to ignore that completely and I’m probably going to realise that in the next month and collapse. I really tried to think a lot more about Sophie Tatischeff because she passed me this thing and I thought of the estate of Tati who were partners with Sophie and are now in charge of his films. They are very talented people and I felt part of that family and I never really thought about the weight of Tati’s heritage. I really tried to make it my own as well, I put a lot of my own vision in to it. I made the father and daughter relationship a lot stronger than it was in the original script.

The original film wasn’t set in Edinburgh was it?

No that’s right, the original film was set in Prague.

So why Edinburgh? What struck you about the city?

I went to present the Triplets of Belleville in Edinburgh, and I just instantly fell in love with the city. There was something about it; the change of light, the clouds passing. It's a city full of light and it's an amazing light that you can only find in Provence because there’s a lot of wind and the light is very sharp. I really loved the people as well, they were very welcoming, but in a true way. I always felt very at home and very much part of a family and very integrated in Scotland. So that’s why I set it in Scotland, because I don’t like to invent, and Prague doesn’t mean anything to me. I need to live most of the experience, so in the film when the train arrives in Scotland that was the experience I had when I arrived in Scotland. The arrival on the island of Mull with the fog; it’s something I lived, and I think it’s much better to try and transmit these feelings when you live them. You can’t invent Scotland, it’s impossible, you have to experience it.

Do you see imperfections in your work when you watch it back?

Oh yes, I have always found that with my own work. I’m a bit of a maniac like that. I’m never satisfied so sometimes I just shut my eyes because I recognise details that no one else will ever see. But after a while, I relax. I can watch Triplets and be relaxed about it, but it usually takes three or four years before I can appreciate it. But I’m still very moved every time I sit through the film. It’s talking about the transformation of people, the girl becoming a woman and the man being at the end of the road... I think it's very touching.

At what stage do you say ‘Right, finished’ and move to something else when you’re making something this detailed?

I try to start from the beginning and never come back. I always try to be convinced that that is the right choice and then go with it. So I really move step by step. When I was happy with the adaption I moved to the animatic and when I was happy with the animatic I started to work on the music and then I started to work on the animation. It's very important not to look back. You have a vision of a film and you go for it. If it's not right then that’s your entire fault, but that’s the way it works.

Do you think you’ll always make animation or do you think you’ll go into live-action cinema?

I have two live-action projects lined up, although I don’t know which one I will start first. I'd really like to try live-action because I love animation, but it just takes so much time.

Are there any challenges that concern you when it comes to filming live action?

People who do animation are very well trained when it comes to going into live-action because you have a sense of detail and control and organisation. Most of the people that come from animation, like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, they do a lot of work on the storyboard prior to the film so its always very organised. I'm not too interested in doing that.

Do you see film as a composition exercise first and foremost?

Well there are so many different styles. It depends on where you come from. Tati came from musicals and everyone has their own sensitivity, some people are more graphical whereas others are much more close to the dialogue. When I do live action it’s going to have a sense of graphicism, much more than someone like Godard, for example. He does not really use graphicism, it’s much more about the drama and the dialogue and the camera. [People like Godard] were people that used the camera much more, as a pen. I am a bit to the contrary. I am at ease with the camera and what I want to see, but Tati did not use the camera at all...

What inspires you in life?

My life inspires me in life.

View 186 comments

Aldorf

4 years ago
A logician may also speculate that if it looks like a dog, acts like a dog, and smells like a dog, then - and not unlike this film - it is most definitely a dog. And it would seem the average cinema-goer recognizes pedigree - the box office delivering the fatal coup de grace this film so richly deserves;)



Jordan Scott

4 years ago
"[…] without a computer graphic in sight."

Please, it would be rather appreciated if the writer of this had seen the film, or even a trailer for it before discussing it like this. The Triplets of Belleville has loads of 3D CGI in it, for most of the vehicles like bicycles, cars, trains, ships and various little things like a weather vane and the integration of drawn and CGI and the freshness they brought to each other is perhaps the thing I most liked about the film at the time and something it should be commended for, not denied existing.

Tom

4 years ago
Fair point, and I agree. It was bad phrasing rather than lack of viewing the film. My point was that Triplets, despite using computer graphics in development, exhibited a purposeful kinship to traditional, hand-drawn animation, contrasting itself with the smoothed out Pixar look that we've started to naturally associate with the film-making style, if that makes any sense.

JBowan

4 years ago
This could well be the most spiteful adapted screenplay ever brought to the screen. Chomet is one twisted individual for how he misrepresents a tale full of regret and sorrow.
http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/pages-for-twitter...
http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/film-cine...

Chomet

4 years ago
The precise reason Chomet has wilfully chosen to misinterpret and pervert the true nature of Tati’s original script, thus diluting and undermining its validity is unclear. But in so doing, preposterously in this observers opinion, by re-writing the personal details of a private life, weaving in similes that flimsily echo the personal journey that he (Chomet) shared with his own daughter throughout the creative process merely provides a smokescreen in the form of a second-hand apology that clumsily draws attention away from what lies at the central core of the l’Illusionniste; a far deeper, intrinsically more compelling story that Chomet has stubbornly, and for whatever reason, completely failed to grasp....

Chomet

4 years ago
...But the real tragedy is how, after all these years it seems somewhat perverse and downright degrading that a young woman - Tati's only surviving daughter 'Helga' in fact, and the true inspiration behind The Illusionist. A woman who was abandoned at birth, is now once again cast further aside, but not just by her father (as if this is not bad enough), but by the slanted agenda’s of individuals and estates who seek to embroider the separate strands of their own lives into the Jaques Tati myth at the expense of those biologically tied:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/31/jacqu...

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
I'm not sure that I understand these criticisms of Chomet's adaptation. The reading of Tati's original script proposed by his middle grandson Richard McDonald is allegorical - Alice, the girl who joins Tatischeff during his stay in Prague/Edinburgh (in neither of which cities, to my knowledge, the real Tati ever took up residence) is not literally either one of his daughters (Sophie or Helga), although her character may have been inspired by Tati's feelings towards either or both of them. I see no reason why an allegorical reference to Helga, and to Tati's regrets about abandoning her, cannot also be traced in Chomet's film (for those who know the family history - surely a small constituency of the audience). To suggest, however, that this is all that the script is about is preposterously narrow, in my view, restricting the film's scope to a private family scandal. On any reading, surely, this is "a tale full of regret and sorrow" - and the fact that Chomet can recognise in it his relationship to his own daughter reflects the idea that there is something altogether more universal to this story than mere Tatian psycho-biography (of relatively little interest to most filmgoers when the script was first written, and of even less interest today).

Cus

4 years ago
Think you will find that the mother of Tati's eldest child was from Prague and held dual nationality Czech and Austrian that is why its location is significant. From what I gather and somewhat of a coincidence the man who Tati's eldest daughter married is from Scotland and it’s as much because Chomet has brought the very personal family story to their doors steps and chosen to misrepresent Tati solemn remorse which has understandably angered his only living relatives. Really what Chomet has done was unnecessarily spiteful and bitter and his adaption of the script suffers for the loss of its soul.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
No, I read Richard McDonald's piece (in the link above), and I do (indeed, did) get the connection between the original script's Prague location and Helga's mother - my point is that this is a highly veiled (tenuous, even) allusion to Helga herself, and an allusion that would be inaccessible and incomprehensible to almost any general viewer who might have seen the film in the early Sixties (had the film actually been made then, which it was not), for the simple reason that Tati never publicly acknowledged Helga. In other words, the allegorical reading to which you allude ("the very personal family story") is in fact a reading to which only a very few privileged insiders (Tati's actual abandoned family and a few of his earlier vaudeville colleagues) would - or indeed could - have been privy. Anyone else could not possibly have recognised or comprehended it. This is not to deny the validity of the reading - but rather to suggest that it is a very private layer of what would have been (and now is) a public work (open to all manner of other, equally valid readings, as it would also have been in the Sixties). Now that McDonald has chosen to make public this particular aspect of Tati's private life, such a reading (of Alice as a figure for the abandoned Helga) is still, surely, entirely possible and valid even in Chomet's adaptation. The layer is still there (and in fact the 'coincidence', as you call it, of the Scottish connection to Helga's husband actually works in favour of this reading no less than the film's original Czechoslovakian setting). What is the problem, and how exactly has Chomet been "unnecessarily spiteful and bitter"? He has no more excluded Helga from his own film that Tati did from his script - and from his life. Sounds to me as though this is a case of shooting the messenger, from a relative with his own (understandable) bitterness...

Chomet

4 years ago
Anton - do you sanction child abuse and neglect? It sounds like it.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
If you mean that question seriously, then I suggest you reread my above contributions a little more carefully. Talk about a non sequitur - much like (imo) your vituperation of Chomet. Tati's original script may in part have reflected upon his own troubled family history and sense of guilt - but if it did, such reflections would never have been discernible or accessible to his viewing public because Tati never (as his grandson McDonald readily concedes) made his private life public or acknowledged Helga (the heavily veiled, allegorised allusions argued to be in the script are the closest Tati ever came to doing this). Asserting this fact (as I did above) is in no way sanctioning Tati's conduct, any more than asserting that Hitler invaded Poland is sanctioning Nazism. Sheesh.

If, armed with a full knowledge of Tati's family history (a knowledge that has only really emerged very recently, and was certainly not available to the general public when Tati wrote his script), you wish to discern an allusion to it in Tati's original script, you can surely still discern an allusion to it in Chomet's adaptation as well (which focuses equally on the regret, disappointment and disillusionment of an aging man - expressly named Tatischeff - in the presence of a younger woman who could just as well be - but expressly is not - his daughter). If you want to trace in Chomet's film an allegorical expression of Tati's regrets about the daughter he abandoned, you certainly can. That said, there are other aspects to be found in both the original script and Chomet's adaptation that might command as much, if not more, of the average viewer's attention, and these should not be denied by narrowly reducing the script to a mere psychohistory of Helga. It may be that, but it is more than just that.
Fin

Cus

4 years ago
At the very least Tati’s script provides quite solid evidence of acknowledgment of Helga and that alone is why Chomet is spiteful in his malicious twisting of a life and regret that a father had towards his own flesh and blood. A life that Chomet had no involvement in but a life never the less that he has tried to take advantage of for his own gain by misrepresenting the most personal feeling of the author he was supposed to be paying homage.

The story between the two lead protagonists run in parallel with the moaning the loss of the age of cabaret, a historically period of time that Tati had performed with the mother of his eldest daughter. The family of stage performers was a community Tati was to be shunned by because of his very treatment towards his first child. The entire movie is about regret and reflecting loss. Scarcely just a coincidence.

You can't shot the messenger if knowledge of the scripts existence and its intentions have been known for a very long time to those most affected.

The movie would have been miles better for a sensitive account of events that led to its writing.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Cus, the references to Tati's work as a vaudeville performer are in (and integral to) Chomet's adaptation as much as they were in Tati's original script. Both script and film are about regret and loss (amongst other things). If these aspects of the original script can be regarded (by those in the know) as reflecting Tati's regretful feelings towards his own past decisions and the daughter that he abandoned, I simply do not understand why you insist that Chomet's film is not open to precisely the same reading (again, for those in the know). If you can read the script allegorically, surely you can read the film allegorically too - your reading is, after all. based on elements and evidence found in the film itself.

As to your wish for a "sensitive account of events that led to its writing", that might indeed be interesting - but it would also be a very different movie (and nothing like Tati's original script). You seem on the one hand to be lambasting Chomet for introducing some rather minimal changes to Tati's script, and then lambasting him even more for not changing the script beyond all recognition.

Cus

4 years ago
"nothing like Tati's original script".......take it you have read it and through telepathy you know what Tati had intended. The account given by Tati's family comes from firsthand knowledge and the mouths of the people who had known and performed with him.

In a French TV interview Pierre Etaix commented that "Tati already had my uncle, the Illusioniost was to be Tati's my father".

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
I haven't read Tati's script (have you?), but I have read several accounts of the changes made in adaptation. These were largely superficial: the location changed from Czechoslovakia to Scotland, a chicken changed to a rabbit - plus one can discern the odd allusion that has been thrown in by Chomet to Tati's later films, and indeed to Chomet's own work. In both Tati's script and Chomet's film, there were virtually no lines. I cannot telepathically read Tati's intentions any more than you can - but nor indeed can Tati's Vaudeville friends who by McDonald's own account had abandoned him over a decade before he started writing The illusionist, or indeed his family on Helga's side who had no contact with Tati. As for the quote from Etaix, that seems entirely consistent with Chomet's adaptation, so I am not sure what point you are making.
Chomet, I appreciate you may have difficulty understanding the point that I am making. Did you have anything else to contribute, y'know, about Chomet and The Illusionist, or is it all down to personal abuse? I'll try once more, in big, easy words: if you want to find in Chomet's film oblique references to Tati's feelings about his abandoned, illegitimate daughter Helga, you can. Chances are that any viewer who cannot find them there would also not have noticed such references in Tati's original script. That is all.

Chomet

4 years ago
If holding a mirror to an imbecile (albeit a wordy one) constitutes abuse, I'm guilty as charged...

The simple fact remains however, that the company's involved in the production of The Illusionist are intent on scoring enough own goals to constitute a basketball score.

See Cartoonbrew.com for futher examples:
http://www.cartoonbrew.com/ideas-commentary/illus...

In what is clearly a sensitive issue for the family, Chomet and his cohorts have continued to brutally ride rough-shod over all sensibility's regarding their illustrious and troubled past. Why else would he continually, and flimsily, persist in peddleing the blatent mistruth that the script is in some way 'an apology from a father to a daughter'. The daughter in question being Sophie Tatischeff, if Chomet is to be believed - a woman who enjoyed paternal patronage from her adoring father until his death....

Chomet

4 years ago
Surely it is far more likely that the script is not in fact an apology from Tati to Sophie, but an expression of shame, sorrow, and regret to his eldest daughter whom he abandoned, as Richard Mcdonald eloquently explains.

It shouldn't unduly shake too many brain cells to work out which one these viewpoints is correct, thus rendering Chomet's assertions at best as disingenius, and worst, downright petulant and churlish....

Chomet

4 years ago
So, it is the omission of Tati's surviving family and the on-going web of deceipt spun by those involved which continues to dog this film and lies at the central core of the family's disenchantment. This can only lead one to wonder if it would not have been a far greater publicity coup, and all the better for the film's takings (which have been poor), had the Tati Estate sought to gain the weight of a ready-made, creditable, and emotionally frought backstory in the form of a reconiliation with Tati's estranged family. And not, as they have done, to shamefully sweep them still futher under the carpet. And lets face it - its a backstory that bares all the hallmarks of all the things that all successful film's are made of. None of which are in evidence in Chomet's cheap hand-me-down apology to his own daughter.

The fact that the Tati Estate have chosen not to do this, in fact choosing the very opposite, suggests there is something to hide. But what?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Quote Cus: "Chomet himself has said that over 90% of his movie is how Tati had wrote it."
Exactly. Broadly speaking, what you could find in Tati's script you will also be able to find in Chomet's adaptation.
"take away all the glaring references that link the script with the life of Tati himself and what are you left with is nothing of any significance and a utterly pointless movie.
If that’s what you want to watch then you are as shallow as your comments."
Here you make clear why we are simply never going to see eye to eye on this film (and fair enough). If this film were merely an animated biopic of Tati, it would be greatly impoverished for that - but it is not by any measure a straight, i.e. non-allegorical, biopic. Tati lived neither in Prague nor in Edinburgh. Neither his legitimate nor his illegitimate daughter was called Alice. Nor did Tati take up with a young woman called Alice in the late Fifties, at which time in fact (unlike the homonymous character 'Tatischeff') he was a successful filmmaker and a family man. I think we are agreed that the script (and the film) figure aspects of Tati's biography, perhaps including oblique references to his illegitimate daughter Helga - but to my thinking, disillusionment, obsolescence, time's passage and the bitter coming of age all constitute grand, compelling, even universal themes, and suffice to lend any film, including this one, considerable significance and resonance. I am indeed no more or less shallow than my comments - but of course the same is true of all who comment.

Chomet, thank you for the offer of the pipe and of your mirror for imbeciles, and thank you especially for that cartoonbrew link, so illustrative of your scattergun approach to random muck-raking, sorry, I mean coherent criticism. Have absolutely nothing else to say in response to your comments that I have not already said.

Chomet

4 years ago
Thats a shame - I was really looking (comma) forward to spending my saturday (comma) afternoon disentagleing (comma) your semi-literate (comma) third-rate arse (comma) cancer (comma) masquarading as prose...

As for:

"thank you for the offer of the pipe and of your mirror for imbeciles..."

I don't believe I said that, but if you recognise yourself, all the better.

NSAB

4 years ago
I would like to know why/how a better animation of Helga's husband in the 50's than the animation of Tati himself appears in the film. If someone could explain that, it might be helpful?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Thank you again for your charming, concise and ever-pertinent discourse analysis. All very helpful and constructive.
While we are on that topic, I am not sure that you understand what the term 'semi-literate' means. For clarification, here are some examples of semi-literate usage, highlighted in bold:
"Thats a shame - I was really looking (comma) forward to spending my saturday (comma) afternoon disentagleing (comma) your semi-literate (comma) third-rate arse (comma) cancer (comma) masquarading as prose..."

Er, getting back on topic (and away from our different writing styles), is your unassailable moral outrage directed against Sylvain Chomet, his production company, the Tati estate, or Tati himself? Taken together, your comments suggest that you regard The Illusionist as the manifesto of a conspiracy (of silence) between all these parties against Helga. Is that a fair and correct characterisation of your position? If not, what is? I realise that you do not like Chomet's film, or indeed Chomet himself. But it was not Chomet who abandoned Helga, and his failure to refer directly to Helga in The Illusionist is a failure that he has in fact inherited from the original script that he is adapting. Like I said, you seem to be shooting the messenger (more than one, in fact). Sorry, by the way, to have had to express my contribution in words, with, y'know, punctuation and stuff. I know how much you object to that, but semaphore was not an option...

Matt Bochenski

4 years ago
Chomet - if you can't discuss this intelligently and without recourse to insults then we'll just start deleting your posts. Thanks.

Cus

4 years ago
Anton the script was written semi-autobiographical by Tati. Yes you could blindly watch the movie without knowing what Tati was referring but it becomes a whole different, emotionally deeper, more personal and therefore more important movie if you take into account what Tati, one of cinema’s all time greats, was trying to address about his private life with its writing.

Cus

4 years ago
So what was Chomet’s motivation in dedicating his adaptation of The Illusionist to one of Tati daughters, Sophie and not the other, Helga whose life it actually references on many levels when it is apparent that he knew the true history of the script having met and spoke to Tati’s grandson? Chomet has said the photo of a girl that the magician looks at from his wallet at the end of the movie is Sophie, if this is the case then who is Alice? Alice the girl who’s life in many ways is akin to the life endured by Helga and resembles nothing of the privileged life that Sophie enjoyed living with, as you put it a “successful filmmaker and a family man” who enjoyed vast inherited wealth from both his arristocratic Russian roots and a Dutch family business that framed most of the painting that hang in the art galleries of Paris.

Cus

4 years ago
Is not just a little over convenient to dedicate the movie to a dead woman who Chomet, in his own words had never spoken to our meet whilst shamelessly trying to throw aside Tati’s abandoned daughter who he probably arrogantly thought would not have a voice? Chomet attitude to the whole true story of Tati’s eldest daughter is disgraceful. They is nothing morally right about Chomets stance and inconsitent lies about how he had obtained the script. He has not been fair to ether sister firstly opportunely taking advantage of a dead woman he never knew or even met and then a woman abandoned in childhood who through the miracles of life is alive today, the only surviving member along with her own family of the Tatischeff dynasty.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Agreed - with the emphasis on semi-autobiographical for the reasons outlined above. Of course, almost anyone reading the script at the time it was written would inevitably have been blind to those biographical nuances that evoke Tati's feelings about Helga, because the history of Tati's relationship with Helga (whom Tati neither ackowledged publicly, or indeed ever met) was not then in the public domain. It is only now that we, the general public, are privy to this information - and yes, knowledge of it does indeed add an extra layer of meaning to Chomet's film. It is not, however, the only layer of meaning to be found there - as becomes clear by the many critical responses to Chomet's film, some very approving, that make no reference to this aspect of Tati's life.

Cus

4 years ago
"whom Tati neither ackowledged publicly, or indeed ever met", Tati did not leave the child and mother until after her first birthday, so he did know Helga just not as a teenager.

Cus

4 years ago
But Chomet never received the script from Sophie, even though having previously said he had he now confesses to having never met her or even spoke to her, it was his producer of Belleville who actually wrote to her for permission to use a clip of Jour de Fete in Belleville, with Chomet only reading the script 2 years after she had died after being handed the script for consideration from the finacial organisation that now promotes Tati's. How much attention do you think a woman with terminal cancer with only a few months to live would give to a complete stranger and a unknown director? The script was apparently obviously wrote as a letter from a father to a daughter but without anyone involved in the production having any firsthand knowledge of Tati's life they misinterpreted the script as letter to Sophie when in was actually an apology to his eldest daughter Helga. Now why would it be convenient for everyone involved in the production if they could hide the true story of Tati? And don’t forget it was as much Helga’s decision in her teenage years not to know her father as she felt betrayed by him for his neglect.

Cus

4 years ago
Tati never abandoned Helga or her mother until after she was a year old, so he knew her just not as a teenager. Do you really believe the man who created the gentile Monsieur Hulot would be without affection to his own daughter who he was very much manoeuvred into giving up.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
I stand corrected - I should have said that Tati never saw/met/knew Helga beyond her infancy. This correction hardly invalidates my point. What is more, I have never suggested that Tati would have no affection for Helga. I simply do not know. Any way that one looks at it, though, 'the man who created the gentle Monsieur Hulot' is the same man who abandoned both Helga and her mother, and who rejected a written request for help from Helga at around the time he was writing The Illusionist. Family relations are always complicated, and should not be second-guessed on the grounds of reason or indeed sentiment.

Cus

4 years ago
"Family relations are always complicated, and should not be second-guessed on the grounds of reason or indeed sentiment". But that's exactly what Chomet has done with absoloultry no knowledge of the family dismissing what should have been a very personal story of guilt and regret.

Dave Rothbury

4 years ago
from an observers point of view theres only one person on this thread talking like a badly retarded yoda, and it doesn't seem to be chomet1!

Cus

4 years ago
of course that was ABSOLUTELY no knowledge :-)

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
The account that I have read of this (an interview from Sight & Sound Sept 2010, Vol.20, Issue 9, p.45) has Sophie Tatischeff personally authorising the use of an extract from Jour de Fete in Chomet's Belleville Rendez-Vous, and at the same time bringing up her father's unfilmed script (which would become The Illusionist), and suggesting that it might be suited to Chomet's animation style. Other interviews with Chomet have revealed that he first got round to reading the script some time later. If memory serves, this was on a train either to or from Cannes when Belleville Rendez-Vous screened there in May, 2003 - well over a year after Sophie's death (October 2001). Chomet would naturally have to deal with Sophie's estate after her death - that is hardly mysterious or sinister, but in fact a requirement of the law. And again, I put it to you that Chomet's adaptation does no more to "hide the true story of Tati" than Tati's original script. Indeed neither of them is, in any straightforward sense, "the true story of Tati". Certainly aspects of Tati's life (including figurative reference to Helga) can be traced in both versions - and while Chomet has finally put this story in the public domain (so that we can be having this conversation now), it is worth remembering that Tati, for whatever reason, shelved it for decades.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Please ignore italics - got one of my tags wrong...

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Chomet has adapted Tati's script - not a specific reading of that script by the family of Tati's illegitimate daughter. Nonetheless, Chomet claims (in his S&S interview): "I did do major research on his [Tati's] non-screen life. I read everything about him, and learned a lot I didn't know that I included as texture in the final adaptation." You can, and no doubt will, dispute these words of his, but I suggest that Chomet is not as ignorant of Tati's history as you claim - which in part explains why his adaptation is no less amenable than Tati's original script to being read as touching on his buried past (and imagined present) with Helga. It is about more than just that - but then so was Tati's original.

Cus

4 years ago
Would that be Chomet’s comprehensive “100% historically accurate” research of history that over on Pathe’s web site for the Illusionist proclaims that the “Lido de Paris on the Champs Elysees was opened in 1946” http://www.theillusionistmovie.co.uk/ when we now know from Tati’s grandson that it was opened before then and it was where “Tati courted and performed on stage at the Lido de Paris with Herta for the two years previous to the birth of their child” in 1942.

Or perhaps your refereeing to Chomets thorough research of Tati movies that lead animator Laurent Kircher to declare that “One of the most difficult scenes for me to draw was the drunken sequence because no reference existed in any of his films” even though one of the most memorable scenes in Jour de Fete is of Francois getting drunk and trying to ride his bike home. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emSnZvoSfeE

Cus

4 years ago
and of course that was perhaps your REFERRING but then again maybe we need a referee, Tati did a great mime of one :-P

Gus

4 years ago
The story of Tati's life and his offspring has been in the public domain now for a number of years throughout europe.

Pathe's own closing synopsis for The Illusionist.

But as Alice comes of age, she finds love and moves on. The Illusionist no longer has to pretend and, untangled from his own web of deceit, resumes his life a much wiser man.

What web of deceit was Tati trying to escape from that inspired him to write The Illusionist? Not really a description suited to, "a love which is not in doubt".

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Who said "100% historically accurate"?

In any case, both Chomet and Tati's grandson are correct in different ways. Until 1946, Le Lido de Paris was known only as La Plage de Paris. In 1946, the (Italian) Clerico brothers took the building over, and renamed it to sound more Italian. So the Lido de Paris did not in fact open till 1946 - even if Tati was able to perform in the same premises before that year. See http://www.traveltripz.com/2009/05/16/paris-isnt-...

It is unfair to blame Chomet for his lead animator's words - but Laurent Kircher, I would imagine, is referring to the fact that no reference exists in any of Tati's films for the drunken scenes required specifically for The Illusionist, which calls for no drunken business with a bicycle, as seen in Jour De Fete.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
When I wrote "this story", I had meant "the story told by The Illusionist" - i.e. the script shelved by Tati - and that has only came into the public domain when The Illusionist was released. The details of what you call "the true story of Tati" have indeed been in the public domain for longer - but they certainly were not in the public domain at the time when Tati wrote the script of The Illusionist, or for many years thereafter.

The 'web of deceit' to which Pathé's synopsis refers is precisely the (character) Tatischeff's illusionism. By the film's end (spoiler alert) he has told Alice that there is no magic, and he resists the temptation to perform yet another magic trick for another (male) child on the train. This is a story of disillusionment.

The Illusionist is a work of fiction. What inspired Tati to write it? Probably lots of things, including things of which he was not himself aware. "What web of deceit was Tati trying to escape from that inspired him to write The Illusionist?" Who knows? Perhaps his fictive Hulot persona - although the character Tatischeff is of course just another fictive persona, not the same as the real Tati (in vocation, location, etc.), and indeed not even intended to be played by Tati either. In any case, Tati would shelve his Tatischeff and return to playing Hulot. Or perhaps Tati wasn't trying to escape his own web of deceit at all, just as Shakespeare wasn't trying to avenge his father in penning Hamlet...

Gus

4 years ago
"100% historically accurate", that was from the mouth of Chomet himself.

There is enough in the scene in Jour de Fete for an artist to know how Tati would have acted being drunk; it should/would have been invaluable reference.

As for the Lido you and Chomet/Pathe are wrong there as well, the Lido that Tati and Herta performed in is very different to the one that exists today. The Lido de Paris was the most exquisite cabaret club in Paris before and during the war and was ran by racehorse owner Leon Volterra and was closed down almost overnight once Paris had been liberated in August 1944. Tati never performed in the venue owned by the Clerico brothers that adopted the name of Paris most famous night club which is located on a completely different site from the original venue.
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A9on_Volterra

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
"There is enough in the scene in Jour de Fete for an artist to know how Tati would have acted being drunk; it should/would have been invaluable reference."
Indeed - it is very much to the credit of Kirscher's artistry that he was able, extrapolating only from this rather different reference in Jour de Fete (of Tati, playing another character, on a bike), to have created such a wonderful drunken Tatischeff in The Illusionist. He is a very talented animator.

I doubt very much that when Chomet said "100% historically accurate" he was referring to the content of a film distributor's publicity materials (which it unlikely that Chomet would have written himself) - but nonetheless, in your post above, you were objecting to the following statement on Pathé's website: “Lido de Paris on the Champs Elysees was opened in 1946”. This appears in a section on Pathé's website (entitled 'The Route') that traces the different locations (Paris, London, the Highlands, Edinburgh) through which the illusionist Tatischeff travels during the course of the film. The statement that you quoted refers to the venue where the character Tatischeff is shown performing in the film's opening section (set in 1959) – and the statement is simply, incontrovertibly true. The website is not referring to the venue of the real Tati's Occupation-era performances (a venue which shut down, as you say, in 1944) – rather the site is expressly referring to the venue of the character Tatischeff's performances (as seen in the film) in 1959. This performance takes place in, precisely, the Lido de Paris on the Champs Elysees, which indeed was opened (by the Clerico brothers) in 1946. It is irrelevant that "Tati never performed in the venue owned by the Clerico brothers", because the film is not, in any straightforward way, about Tati, and it is not set in the early Forties. It is about a character called Tatischeff, who may be modelled to a large degree on Tati, but who in the late Fifties has a life story rather different from Tati's own...

Cus

4 years ago
Yet Kirscher to his own admission never used the material of Tati drunk from Jour de Fete. If he had watched Jour de Fete he would have been able to watch various examples of Tati getting up to numerous activities on foot including the most fantastic dance sequence before he took off home on his bike.

Not about Tati, then you've watching a very different film than Chomet made and Tati wrote.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
I'm confused - are you criticising Chomet's abilities here or Kirscher's? And do you have any problems with the way Tatischeff's drunken scene in The Illusionist turned out? Why exactly is any of this germane to your original position that Chomet was "unnecessarily spiteful and bitter" in his adaptation? Or are you just trying to find fault with anything and everything that has any connection whatsoever to the film's genesis, production, and personnel?

I don't think we did watch a different film although we may have watched it in a different way. In suggesting that I said the film is "not about Tati", you re misquoting me. What in fact I said was: "the film is not, in any straightforward way, about Tati, and it is not set in the early Forties. It is about a character called Tatischeff, who may be modelled to a large degree on Tati, but who in the late Fifties has a life story rather different from Tati's own...", All of those qualifications (which you have omitted in your citation) were there for a reason. It is important, when quoting, to look at context. Likewise with your criticisms of the (correct) quote about the Lido from Pathé's website, whose context you conveniently obliterated.

Cus

4 years ago
The movie itself is very much about Tati looking back at a period of time in his life which encompasses everything that has been discussed here and not just a sanitised version of his life. A time in his life forever lost when he once performed to a live audience and not just a camera. A time of vaudeville camaraderie that he give up when he betrayed his own daughter born within the vaudeville family. The Movie is "unnecessarily spiteful and bitter" when you take into account the emotional depth that the script was intended to touch and address but which the movie itself fails to deliver.

I've read tonnes of reviews now who to the most part never understand the relationship between Tatischeff the magician and Alice and for me at least it would have been a far better movie for the actual telling of what motivated Tati’s writing and the shame that didn’t allow him to film his script as he had intended. If that wasn’t the movie Chomet wanted to make then he should have wrote something more fitting of his own as a homage to Tati.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
All understood from your earlier posts - and I appreciate the clarity of your summary.

Given the strength of your feelings, do you think that Chomet's film is simply irredeemable, or do you recognise that it actually can be regarded as achieving everything you say you want it to achieve once the viewer is fully apprised (e.g. by reading a recent Tati biography, or the newspaper, or a discussion like this one) of the 'Helga chapter' of Tati's biography? Is that resonance not discernible in Chomet's film for those who wish to see it? I think it is - and for me this is another layer of the film's subtlety and sadness, just waiting to be unwrapped. In my view, The Illusionist works on multiple levels, and exposes different aspects of itself on different viewings - all of which makes it worth watching, and rewatching. I certainly don't think it should be dismissed out of hand. After all, illusionists specialise in the art of not being what they might at first seem to be...

Anyways, thanks Cus and/or Gus for the conversation. It's been interesting.

Chomet

4 years ago
Which is my point exactly, and one made earlier in this thread:

"So, it is the omission of Tati's surviving family and the on-going web of deceipt spun by those involved which continues to dog this film and lies at the central core of the family's disenchantment. This can only lead one to wonder if it would not have been a far greater publicity coup, and all the better for the film's takings (which have been poor), had the Tati Estate sought to gain the weight of a ready-made, creditable, and emotionally frought backstory in the form of a reconiliation with Tati's estranged family. And not, as they have done, to shamefully sweep them still futher under the carpet. And lets face it - its a backstory that bares all the hallmarks of all the things that all successful film's are made of. None of which are in evidence in Chomet's cheap hand-me-down apology to his own daughter. "....

Chomet

4 years ago
...This Anton biff seems to me to be the written equivelent of talking with your mouth full. And given his propensity for talking (poppy)cock, I can only presume thats what he has his mouth full of when he's not making a prat of himself on here.

The simple question is this: Would The illusionist be a better/more creditable film had those involved sought to ingratiate and embrace themselves with Tati's estranged family and irrefutable history?

Hindsight would suggest 'yes'. Hence Chomet's/Pathe's/Sony's myriad of own goals...as mentioned earlier.

Gushing 5 star press reviews can be bought, public opinion can't. Samples there-of can be found here:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0775489/usercomments

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Cus (and/or Gus),
I am grateful for the clarity and civility of your summary.

What we find in Chomet's film is essentially what Tati put in his script. The history of Tati and Helga is out there for those who are interested, e.g. in (recent) biographies, articles, and discussions just like this one. Any viewer apprised of this history can return to The Illusionist and trace the part that it plays in the film's allusive texture, adding a whole new layer of subtlety and sadness to the narrative. This is part of what makes the film multi-layered, and worth not only watching but rewatching – but only for those who are looking for what the film conceals in its staged drama (its allegory). The same would of course have been true of Tati's original script – but that was written at a time when the history of Helga was not known to the general public. There is no explicit reference to Helga in either the film or the script – although arguably there are plenty of implicit references to her in both (and I am intrigued by NSAB's suggestion above that a close likeness of Helga's husband appears in the film). Illusionists, by their very nature, cover up the truth with a dazzling (or at the very least shabby) performance. What you see in Chomet's film is less than what you (can) get.

Our respective positions are not so very different. It is just that I think Chomet's film is a respectful homage to Tati precisely because it respects the director's intentions as he expressed and enshrined them in his own script, rather than as others have subsequently inferred them. I suppose Chomet could have added to his film "the actual telling of what motivated Tati’s writing and the shame that didn’t allow him to film his script as he had intended" – but the truth is that Chomet could not know exactly what motivated Tati, any more than you or I could, so this would in fact risk disrespecting Tati's intentions. Better to stick to the script, as it were, and let all of us draw our own conclusions, knowing what we know. That's what Chomet has done, leaving Tati's script open to interpretation (and reinterpretation – go on, try it) rather than narrowly closing it off.

Chomet

4 years ago
A long-winded way of saying | more-or-less agree with you, and you still haven't worked it out yet have you.

Clearly not:)

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
little white lies...truth & movies...

seems to be hitting the truth about this one!!

great thread everyone - is it a score draw?

Cus

4 years ago
“The very title, l'Illusionniste illustrates how Tati was aware at how his public persona was a veil that contradicted the real man. Conjurers by their very craft are deceitful”.
Richard Mcdonald, grandson of Jacques Tati’s, 26th May 2010



“Illusionists, by their very nature, cover up the truth with a dazzling (or at the very least shabby) performance”.
Anton Bitel, Filim critic, 7th September 2010


Welcome to the same page Anton.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Cus/Gus,
Same page, slightly different reading.
All along – look back to my first posts – I have been arguing that any veiled allusions to Helga to be found in Tati's original script are equally, if not more, available in Chomet's film. I say 'more available', because in fact only a small group of insiders knew anything of Helga and her connection to Tati in the late Fifties, whereas this biographical information is now in the public domain, for those who care to access it. In both script and film, any reference to Helga is necessarily veiled, because she is not explicitly mentioned in either, and one needs to import external knowledge to decode Tati's personal allegory. I have never suggested that reading Tati's script or Chomet's film in this way is in any way invalid – on the contrary. I think my essential disagreement with your position is on two counts:
1) I simply don't think that the 'Helga reading' is all that there is to The Illusionist - rather I consider it to be just one of the film's many resonant strands. On this point, we shall just have to agree to disagree.
2) Chomet has reproduced Tati's script with considerable fidelity. The biggest change that he has introduced, shifting the action from Czechoslovakia to Scotland, does not in fact undermine the 'Helga reading', as Helga has connections to both countries, and arguably her connection to Scotland is stronger. I therefore cannot agree with the characterisation of Chomet's film as being "the most spiteful adapted screenplay ever brought to the screen", or with the characterisation of Chomet himself as "one twisted individual". It was in response to these phrases (not your own) that I was prompted to contribute in the first place. If you believe that Helga should have played a more prominent, explicit part in the film, blame Tati, not Chomet – but as it is, Helgacan be seen as having an implicit presence in Chomet's film no less than in Tati's script.

The positions on both sides of this argument have now been set out with considerable repetition, and some digression too. I have nothing further to add – but again I appreciate your civility in what has been an interesting and at times animated discussion. That is all.

Cus

4 years ago
Anton you are still talking with talk authoritative fact about a script you have never read and they is no way, apart from blind stubbiness, that you can dismiss that Helga was wrote centrally into Tati’s script, ether with her own name or as a pseudo unless at the very least you have read every version of the script that Tati wrote between 1955 and 1959 or talked to Tati himself. The information we now have tells us that Tati did talk direct to his former cabaret performers about a script that he had wrote for his estranged daughter, Helga and the historical evidence makes a quite solid case that script is the Illusionist. A script that Chomet himself recognises as “so personal (to Tati) that I think he was afraid to make it”. What could be more personal than the guilt of the betrayal of your own flesh and blood that Tati had to live with.

NSAB

4 years ago
Suggestion? The character in the film is an 'identical' likeness to Helga's (Tati's daughter's husband) anyone who has known him would verify this fact.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
It's not every day I get accused of 'blind stubbiness'...

Personally, I don't know what Helga's husband looks like, and I don't even know to which character NSAB is referring (which one is it?), but bowing to NSAB's superior knowledge on this matter, I would say that the presence of a character in Chomet's film modeled directly on Helga's husband would greatly problematise the view held by many in this discussion that Chomet is somehow insensitive to the possibility that there are allusions to Helga to be found in this story. If he were, why would he include in his film a ghostly 'double' of her husband (for those privileged to be able to recognise him)? There are of course, as has been discussed, plenty of other evocations of Helga too (for those in the know), but this one would seem to be the clincher...

Chomet

4 years ago
Ok 'cleverclogs' - so why then portray Helga's husband (Alice's boyfriend), and yet still insist the film is an apology to Sophie and not to Helga. In fact, pouring scorn over the very notion that it could possibly be any other way? A belief he has expressed in several interviews. A curious disharmony, no?

Chomet

4 years ago
Oh, and Anton, if your going to hit people with a grammar stick whilst striding atop a mile-high horse, it may serve you well to attempt to re-read some of your sub-yoda-ish gash from earlier...

Meredith

4 years ago
Having read your posts and seen your profile pic Anton I'd say "blind stubbiness" charmingly suits you :-)

mattg

4 years ago
Anton wins for not insulting anyone. Close match though

Cus

4 years ago
Lol, "blind stubbiness" was a double entendre in an allegoric Michael Finnegan sort of way.

As for a character in the movie resembling Tati daughters own husband in real life if this is the case then isn’t this just another layer of spite added by Chomet who, “bitterly dismisses McDonald's claim as "madness", asking how could Tati have written something so personal about a daughter he never lived with?” Is the character resembles Alice’s boyfriend at the end of the movie?
For its US release it appears that Sony is so far dropping any reference to Tati http://www.sonyclassics.com/theillusionist/

Cus

4 years ago
And before anyone jumps that was, “Is the character resemblance Alice’s boyfriend at the end of the movie”? Very curious about this.

morrisman

4 years ago
thats intrigueing. is this perhaps because of the controvesy surrounding the script? i hear also that sylvain chomet is not going over there to promote the film. is this in some way linked? i'm not sure who here/if anyone would be best placed to know, but Anton and Gus/Cus do seem very authorititive about this whole matter.

Matt Bochenski

4 years ago
Hey guys

I just wanted to say that we at LWLies are asserting our moral and legal ownership of all the content in this thread. We'll be bringing out the edited comments anthology in time for Christmas. Available at all good bookstores!

We may also develop a screenplay - Chomet: The Movie - a courtroom drama inspired by this thread.

morrisman

4 years ago
AH...HERES (sorry, caps) the link for sylvain chomet not promoting the film stateside:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/tiff/tif...

he's afraid of flying!! did he not live in canada for ten years? theres no landbridge, unless we count siberia to alaska that i'm aware of to explain how he currently resides in provence?

a bit odd that he isn't going though don't you think? i mean, afterall, isn't he the focal point of this film, its mouthpiece? surely it would be paramount for the publicity of this film in the biggest market for him to be there?

don't worry - i don't think the united states government blew up the twin towers, i just think this is a little bit odd is all. any thoughts?

morrisman

4 years ago
i think you should focus on the struggle of one man standing alone against the world to wrest back his family history from corporations intent on destroying his good name. this richard mcdonald whoever he is, is clearly a man of integrity, who will not lie down and die in the face of incredible corporate pressure, who in my opinion clearly have something to hide. i think it only goes to show what can be achieved if one feels strongly enough!!

also, and anton may know something about this. aren't oscars meant to be passed down directly through the family, and if so, i wonder where tati's is now?

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
Its certainly been a humdinger and Gus/Cus, and Anton clearly know their subject matter! I for one generally favour the underdog so will be sideing with Richard Mcdonald and his champions on this one:)

Andy

4 years ago
Wow! I haven't seen this film and now I don't want to.

Sal

4 years ago
I thought the film was brilliant and I sincerely regret that Chomet's new work has met with this controversy because he is a great artist. I myself don' see even a scrap of insult in the resulting work he has made. I have read all the arguments here and on other sites and the original letter and I completely understand the hurt caused by this particular chapter of personal history but I don't think you can make Chomet responsible for the issues involved . I thought it was spellbinding and honest in a way most animations shy away from.
Chomet has himself stated that he initially would have preferred to continue doing his own original ideas (and anyone who's seen the Triplets knows he is more than capable of this), but that he found promise in the idea he was given. I do not find myself capable of viewing this man as an opportunistic and insensitive or of building a web of deceit around an issue that he shouldn't even have to get involved in. If it were a biographical account he was meddling with then fair dos but this is a piece of art not a signed confession. I'm with Anton on this one and I hope all the hullabaloo won't put other prospective audiences off a film which is already only receiving a limited release.

NSAB

4 years ago
It's not a resemblence it's actually him. as i said before anyone who has known him will varify this. There is a mountain of evidence to back this up. Anyway this bloke who directed this may be good at drawing, but as a person appears a quite ridiculous hopeless liar
yes it is the character who becomes the girls boyfriend.

Cus

4 years ago
"an issue that he shouldn't even have to get involved in", think thats the point.

as for "he is a great artist",

"Sylvain Chomet himself animated only one small scene on this film, just to find out it was very difficult and he decided to leave it to the animators. Hope that helps the outside world :o)" Victor Ens, senior animator on The Illusionist.

Cus

4 years ago
“an issue that he shouldn't even have to get involved in”, is that not the problem that left the family of Tati’s eldest daughter little choice but to make public of the regretful history of the script that Chomet has shied away from

As for “he is a great artist”

"Sylvain Chomet himself animated only one small scene on this film, just to find out it was very difficult and he decided to leave it to the animators. Hope that helps the outside world :o)" Victor Ens, senior animator on The Illusionist.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Cus, by "the regretful history of the script that Chomet has shied away from", don't you mean "the regretful history of the script that Tati has shied away from"? Tati never acknowledged Helga in public, never reconciled with her, and presumably never met her husband either. By contrast, Chomet has 'cast' the exact likeness of Helga's husband as Alice's beau. I'd say that of the two artists, Tati seems a little bit shier in this respect.

No disrespect intended to anyone, but Helga's family has/had plenty of choices open to them. They have exercised a choice of dignified silence for many decades. The history of Helga is now in the public domain, for those who are interested - and as we have established, it is also traceable as one of many layers in Chomet's film, again for those who are interested. Indeed, by making the spitting image of Helga's (Scottish) husband double as Alice's (Scottish) suitor in the film, Chomet himself has evidently gone out of his way to highlight that particular interpretative strand in his film - at least for those in the know. Of course Helga's family has every right to tell their own story as and when they see fit - and they also have every right to interpret Chomet's film any way they like. My particular problem with their reading is that it is so proprietary, as though a (necessarily private) subtext in Tati's original were all there was to it. Instead of merely drawing to the public attention the references to Helga that they see in the story, they have tried to argue that no other reading of this allegory is right, conscionable or acceptable - as though not just Tati's art, but also the very meaning and interpretation of that art, were somehow rightfully and exclusively theirs and theirs alone. Art, in my experience, is not like that. Chomet's film does not, as far as I can see, exclude or invalidate their reading - but it does include other possible readings. That's part of what makes it multivalent, resonant, and worth revisiting. I have little doubt that the same would have been true of Tati's film, had he ever made it - not least because Tati was too shy of airing his own dirty laundry to present his history 'with' Helga as anything but allegory, and with all the illusoriness and ambiguity that allegory entails. Of course it is also the case that Tati just liked telling stories about outmoded misfits who struggle in the modern world, and who make connections, however fleetingly, with like-minded dreamers, before moving on. He had told this kind of story in film before (Monsieur Hulot's Holiday), and he would do so again (Playtime). If The Illusionist had been made in the early Sixties, the general public (who knew nothing of Helga) would have regarded it as just another Tati picture, only more melancholic.

As for your second comment, you seem to imagine that Sal claimed Chomet "is a great animator". He didn't. Which leads me again to ask: are you just trying to find fault with anything and everything that has any connection whatsoever to the film's genesis, production, and personnel, and to assassinate Chomet's character in any way possible? How exactly is the fact that Chomet is the film's director rather than one of its many animators relevant to your overall thesis?

Cus

4 years ago
Anton the script is very much about Loneliness and emptiness, how alone do you think a child, Tati’s eldest child Helga, living in orphanage on the edge of the Sahara felt. A child that might well have read newspaper articles of the fabulous Tati the family man bouncing her half-brother, Pierre and half-sister, Sophie on his knees.

Cus

4 years ago
The families account allows us the fortune to understand the motives as to why Tati, the author of the Illusionist, had been inspired to write it. No other account has been brought forward that does not rely on pure speculation and inaccurate telling of history for lives not lived by others. Speculation made with no knowledge of a private life, concealed or not, of a public figure.

Cus

4 years ago
For the family of Tati Chomet’s movie does not reveal anything new but only serves to rake up private memories of regret that the script, which the family have been fully aware of existing, did 50 years ago.

If Tati had made the Illusionist in the 1960’s the story of Helga would have no longer been, through one way or another, a secrete that she can only have been burdened in life by. The need by Tati to keep her existence a private matter is the most plausible account as to why Tati’s, The Illusionist remained on the shelf for all those decades.

Cus

4 years ago
Chomet has not gone out of his way; he has done everything to dismiss any poignant connection that the script has with Tati’s eldest daughter. If he has recreated a spitting image of Helga’s real-life Scottish husband where did he get the reference material from and why has he been so coy about acknowledging this? Who give Chomet permission to render Helga’s husband? Clearly not the man himself or his family who understandably see Chomet’s handling of the script an invasion of their privacy which they have been forced to divulge to draw a line under the misrepresentation by others out to make a gain by aligning themselves to an artist they hold in high esteem but have nothing to do with apart from their own deceptive allusions.

Cus

4 years ago
I myself like many other people never knew my own grandparents but it does not in anyway stop them being that or for me to be both lifted and hampered by the life they lived, I know them from stories passed down between generations told by people who lived and worked alongside them. That I, like everyone, is a result of the struggles and joys of a former generation is the reason why I would consider it an intrusion if anyone from outside of my own family or its most close associates was to make an audacious claim as to understanding their private motivations. That is why for me the account of the script by Tati’s family has far more credibility than any explanation Chomet could conjure up to suit his own agenda, an agenda that has allowed Chomet to dilute a heartfelt message that a father had addressed to his estranged daughter.

Aldorf

4 years ago
Anton - the point you have stubbornly failed to grasp, or are at least intent on being so deliberately obtuse to the point of sheer belligerence appertains to the simple fact that Chomet has persistently spun this film as an apology from Tati to his youngest daughter Sophie. Weaving into this his own 'sorrow' too, for having somehow contrived to miss his own teenage daughter blossom into young adulthood by the form of a cheap, hand-me-down apology, when all of the evidence inescapably points to the contrary.

To this end, I give you Exhibit A:

Sophie, Tati's youngest daughter, who enjoyed the paternal love of her father throughout her childhood and grew up working closely with him on many of his projects. In short, and especially for the blind participants in this thread, she spent a lot of time with her father.

Or is it Exhibit B:

Tati's eldest daughter, abandoned from birth and left to forge her own way in the world without the paternal love of a doting father. The details of which, for anyone new to this thread, can be found here in Richard McDonald's heartfelt and eloquent account of his of his family's anguished past:
http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/pages-for-twitter...

So the question is, and its a simple one, but if, as Tati alluded himself, this film did indeed carry a personal weight that he himself felt unable to face, and if this script is, as is widely acknowledged, an apology to a daughter - which of Tati's daughters is the most likely contender, and why would Chomet incredulously continue to suggest that it is Sophie?

Now, Anton, its a shame to have to say this because you're clearly an intelligent fellow, but not only are you clutching at the last remaining straws of a receding argument, you're also beginning to paint a somewhat shallow and stubborn portrait of yourself in this discussion. Are you really so insecure as to be unable to accept that someone else may have superior knowledge on a subject, albeit one that falls within your sphere of expertise, than you yourself have, because that is precisely how its looking here.

I await you're convoluted response with disdain...

jimbob

4 years ago
have you asked where this likeness has come from, how could the makers of the illusioniste could possibly know what helga's husband looked like?

Fruitbat

4 years ago
Perhaps being such fantastic artist and creative genius, his perception is more finely tuned than that of the great unwashed?

On the other hand?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
The fact that the film is about the character Tatischeff's sense of loneliness and emptiness does not map easily onto your reading of it.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Tati's life is precisely a life not lived by Helga and her family, any more than it was lived by Chomet. Tati last saw Helga when she was a baby - and also never met Herta again (even when they were living in the same city). McDonald's letter combines an account of his own family's history with an account of Tati's intentions that is necessarily speculative. And The Illusionist is not history, it is allegory - a fictive form notoriously open to more than one interpretation.

Fruitbat

4 years ago
There at least three cricketers that would love you to fight their corner.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Having now read and reread this comment, it occurs to me that nothing Chomet did or does could satisfy you. His inclusion of a visual reference to Helga's husband would seem to support McDonald's interpretation of the film really rather well - but then Chomet is, in your view, to be blamed for having the audacity to use such a likeness (and even then, for you, he still somehow has not gone out of his way enough to reference Tati's complicated history with Helga). The truth is, what you seem to want is a detailed, blow-by-blow biopic of Tati's life, and of some of the aspects of his life that he preferred to keep private - and a biopic that comes stamped and sealed with the full approval of Helga's family. I would suggest that your thorough rejection of Chomet's film is part and parcel of your inability to recognise that neither Chomet's nor indeed Tati's The Illusionist was such a biopic. It is an imaginary allegory. I might add that Tati never seemed much interested in the views of Helga or her family himself. Regrettable, reprehensible - but also true.

There are many viewers of this film today who will never have heard of Tati or Hulot, let alone of Helga. I suspect though that at least some of them will still find plenty of poignancy in the relationship between Tatischeff and Alice.

Fruitbat

4 years ago
I've got little desire to go into detail. Tati did show interest in his estranged family which inspired him to make another movie. All I will say is Fuckin hell Paul Cannell with A DIVING HEADER AFTER 8 MINUTES.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Hey Aldorf
Loath as I am to earn your disdain, I can say (on the basis of rather personal experience) that a father's relationship towards his daughter(s) is always complicated, and fathers are often anxious - even needlessly so - about the future that they are bequeathing to their children, and about the rapidity with which their children are growing up and getting away from them. Alice is not in any straightforward way either Helga or Sophie, but I have little difficulty reading her as a figure for either daughter, or indeed for both. The fact that "Sophie spent a lot of time with her father" does not in any straightforward way support your contention that Alice is obviously Helga. In the film, Alice spends a lot of time with Tatischeff. Helga, on the other hand, spent no time with her father once he had abandoned her in her infancy. Of course, Alice is not actually Tatischeff's daughter at all in the film, any more than Tatischeff is the real Tati. On any reading, the details of the film's story do not, directly and straightforwardly, correspond to the biographical details of Tati (who never lived in Czechoslovakia/Edinburgh, who never lived with an 'Alice' there, and who was a successful filmmaker in 1959, who never practised as a stage illusionist, etc.). Chomet's film can accommodate reading Alice either as Sophie or as Helga, or as both in different respects - or indeed, for the majority of viewers who know nothing of Sophie or Helga (or even Tati), Alice can also be read simply as Alice.

One other thing: it is a misconception that Tati's script is "widely acknowledged" to be "an apology to a daughter". What is acknowledged is that it was "a letter to a daughter". Styling that letter an "apology" is what logicians call 'begging the question'.

Meredith

4 years ago
But Tati's life was a life which at one time he shared with Herta Schiel, the mother of Tati's first child Helga. Helga was not an immaculate conception, she has equal claim to the Tatischeff line as Tati's own grandfather had after he too was shamefully abandoned by the Russian side of his family.

McDonalds claim is not speculative but based on factual evidence provided by Tati, his friends, colleagues and Herta Schiel who had all participated in his early life up to middle age. A time that was clearly prevalent in his development as an artist.

Anton having read all your posts it’s apparent that you are being incredibly bloody minded and that at Christmas there would be little point in knocking on your door with a UNICEF form.

Meredith

4 years ago
Pathe's own promotional material for The Illusionist states,

"She doesn’t know yet that she loves him like she would a father – he knows already that he loves her as he would a daughter".

That the movie is presented as "A love letter from a father to a daughter" makes one question which daughter of Tati's does the above statement align itself with? It’s unlikely to be the child who was cherished, and seems rather more to compensate for a man's guilt for the abandonment of his first child.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
That, of course, is a matter of opinion. There is, as they say, no arguing about tastes. I adored the film. Knowing that others did not is hardly going to change my opinion. I am curious, though: how many of those commenting on the film here have actually seen it?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Everyone in this debate who is condemning Chomet seems to imagine that human intention is something simple, singular and easy to read; they also assume that they have a thorough understanding of Tati's intentions in writing his script (which in fact nobody does); and they want Chomet's The Illusionist to be about one thing and one thing only.

Chomet, in adapting Tati's script, has not imposed a single meaning on his work. Want to see it as being about Tati's feelings towards his abandoned daughter Helga? You can (he has even left breadcrumbs that will lead to this reading). Want to see it as being about Sophie instead? Again, you can. Want to see it as being simply a 'realist fairytale' about the character Tatischeff and the character Alice? You can. Want to see it as being about fathers and daughters in general, and the times shared and lost between them? You can. Want to see it (and I'm surprised no-one has yet suggested this) as being about Tati's feelings towards Helga's mother Herta (described by McDonald as "a young woman barely out of childhood herself" when she came to Paris in her teens and spent two years with Tati there)? You can. In a sense, it is all of these (and more). Chomet's personal take on the material may be that he thinks it is about Tati's feelings towards Sophie, but he has had the good grace to leave his film entirely open to many interpretations other than this one. His deriders, however,seem to wish to close the film down to one monolithic reading - a reading which would in fact have been unavailable to the general public at the time that Tati penned the script. In doing so, they are both misunderstanding the breadth of Chomet's film, and doing Tati himself a disservice by reducing his artistry to mere autobiography. All art has an autobiographical element to it - but there is more to art than that.

NSAB

4 years ago
I'm not assuming anything. I feel pity for the director who only wanted to make a great piece of art and for this to be appreciated.however he does appear to have been trawling through dustbins for an idea.
He could have avoided this whole carry on by making an ambition movie of his very own.

I went to see it, it was alright ( partly because the arthouse was half empty). The animation is very good ( especially Alice's boyfriend) Why was it not shown at multiplex cinemas so more people could enjoy Slyvains talents?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
"Why was it not shown at multiplex cinemas so more people could enjoy Slyvains talents?"
This is probably because it hits the trifecta when it comes to 'hooks' that are difficult to sell to multiplexes:
1) it is not an English-language film;
2) its animation is directed more at adults than children;
3) it is a downbeat film with no happy ending for its protagonist.
The key target demographic for multiplexes is people in their teens and twenties. Many, I'd say the majority, of these will not have heard of Jacques Tati or his oeuvre. Those that have are probably comfortable with arthouses. And so it goes.

Cus

4 years ago
“Tati's life is precisely a life not lived by Helga and her family, any more than it was lived by Chomet”. Don’t be ridiculous Anton.

Perhaps you should look at the persecution by authorities after the war of Parisian stage performers who continued their trade during the Second World War to understand why Tati had no choice but to hide from his duties to his child born within the music halls. Up until recently the way history was publicly told was that Tati had fled to Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre(where after the war he would film, Jour de Fete) to avoid Nazi recruiters, however we now know he had ended up there( with co-author of The Illusionist, Henri Marquet) concealing shame of having been thrown out of the Parisian Cabaret circuit for the betrayal of his own child and her mother.

Many of Tati’s former music hall colleagues later performed in his movies whilst also remaining in contact with the mother of his first child, Herta do you really believe that the welfare of Helga was never discussed. We do not know that Tati categorically did not provide for Helga.

Cus

4 years ago
YES I have seen The Illusionist and it is my unreserved opinion that it would have raised the movie to a completely different level of artistic value had the story of Helga not been spitefully concealed. A real-life story that helps us to understand the inspirations of one of the twentieth century’s greatest movie directors, a fascinating insight that we would never have known about with out the intervention of Tati’s grandson that goes along way to explain why a Tati movie suffocates in extreme melancholy.

Hey you know what I’ll even give Chomet a bit of slack, maybe it wasn’t him that didn’t allow the motives of the script to be revealed and maybe he’s contractually shackled by other parties whose choices detrimentally produced a far weaker movie than what could have been.

NSAB

4 years ago
Thanks for that. Still, it appears a lot of money to spend on a cartoon , that only a few people are going to see?

I'm sure I saw a trailer for it when I went to see Iron Man.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Hi Meredith,
I think you have misread my comment. McDonald combines two accounts in his letter. One is of his family's history,the other is of Tati's frame of mind and intentions in writing The Illusionist. I am not questioning McDonald's account of his family history, or claiming that it is speculative. It is his "account of Tati's intentions" that I said was "necessarily speculative". All accounts of someone else's (or arguably even your own) intention are. That is why I was careful to tease apart the accounts that McDonald has conflated. Evidently not careful enough, though.

You know what, I may well be "incredibly bloody minded" - after all, I hold my views passionately in this discussion no more or less than all the other contributors - but suggesting that I have no care for children or their welfare, or worse that I sanction child abuse (as another contributor has suggested) follows from exactly nothing that I have said, and is frankly hurtful and unfair. I have not at any point questioned Helga's claims on the Tatischeff line, nor have I ever condoned Tati's conduct. What I have said is that Tati's life was not lived by Helga any more than it was by Chomet, or by you, or by me. It wasn't. He abandoned her in her infancy, and they never saw each other again. Helga's attempt to reach out toTati for assistance in the mid Fifties was met with a sound rejection from him. It is very sad, but also true. What all these facts have to do with my own attitudes to Christmas or UNICEF is simply beyond my comprehension.
Yours stubbily,
anton

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
You know what, Cus: I don't disagree with anything that you say. I also don't understand how it constitutes a response to what I said, or demonstrates its ridiculousness. The evidence for my assertion comes directly from McDonald's own account.

Helga never met her father after she was abandoned in her infancy. Tati rejected her written request for help. His life was entirely separate from hers. If Tati had provided for Helga (which is not the same as letting her into his life anyway), it seems highly likely that McDonald would have mentioned this. He didn't. On the contrary, it is precisely Tati's refusal to help Helga that McDonald highlights in his open letter.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
"it is my unreserved opinion that it would have raised the movie to a completely different level of artistic value had the story of Helga not been spitefully concealed."
The one who concealed this story is Tati. Chomet, unlike Tati, has made this film, and has made it at a time when the story of Helga is in the public domain and accessible to those who are interested. In the Fifties, Sixties, and many years thereafter, Helga's story was not in the public domain. How is Chomet responsible for its concealment then? He wasn't even born. References to Helga can be found in Chomet's film. And so the same essential arguments go round and round. Glad you've seen it, though, Cus.
Btw, I seem to have stopped getting e-mail notifications of new comments. Is it just me, or is that the same for everyone else?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
I wish more people would see it. It's (strictly imo, of course) a wonderful film. That said, there are plenty of great films that never find their way into multiplexes, or the public eye. Still, it's to Chomet's immense credit that he made this rather than, say, Space Chimps 2. The sad reality of the current mainstream market for animation is that The Illusionist would probably have commanded a far greater profile if it had been released in 3D...

Cus

4 years ago
Anton from the very beginning of this discussion you set up to defend Chomet reluctance to acknowledge why Tati had wrote the Illusionist that known events tell us were, as Chomet himself recognises, “so personal (to Tati) that I think he was afraid to make it”.

Your stance has been to defend, someone else's(Chomet’s) assumed allegory of a written piece whom, in your own words, “wasn't even born” when the script was wrote and who has no connection at all with the life of Jacques Tati or any of his family or associates and therefore little worthy knowledge of the life of Jacques Tati or his inspirations. With Chomet openly confessing to having "never got to meet Sophie, or even speak to her about the script", he maliciously, in a reverse Cinderella way, dedicates his movie to her rather than Tati's estranged eldest daughter Helga who's difficult life is actually reflected in both Tati's original writing and Chomet's movie (especially if we now take into account the inclusion, as you seem to accept, that the man Alice befriends later in the movie is indeed a spitting image of Helga's real-life Scottish husband) .

Cus

4 years ago
"Helga's attempt to reach out toTati for assistance in the mid Fifties was met with a sound rejection from him".

Didn't Helga's writting to him not coincide with the exact time that Tati wrote his " love letter from a father to a daughter" that would prove “so personal (to Tati) that I think he was afraid to make it”.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Cus, you are devoting unnecessary time and effort to trying to persuade me of something that I already conceded in my very first post. If you want to see Tati's script as an allegory of Tati's feelings towards Helga, both Tati's screenplay and Chomet's film can certainly accommodate such an interpretation.

That said, you seem to suppose that Helga's letter to Tati was the only or key motivation for his writing his script. This seems highly unlikely. McDonald states that "Tati played with idea's for l'Illusionniste throughout the mid to late 1950's", and that "Consecutive versions of l'Illusionniste script exist dated from 1955 through to 1959." By McDonald's own account, Helga wrote her letter to Tati some time after Christmas of 1955. Again, I quote McDonald:
"Having been at the centre of the Christmas Eve bombing of the main Marrakech market in which she witnessed the massacre of a number of her boarding school friends, Helga Marie-Jeanne was actively encouraged by the French Consulate to flee Morocco for her own safety. Holding only a French passport she wrote to her father in hope that he would show compassion towards her plight and help her escape the hostilities that had built up in Morocco by offering her safe passage back to her home city of Paris. He was never forthcoming with help."

Given the realities of the international postal system at the time, it would seem simply implausible that the first version - the 1955 version - of the script that Tati wrote could have been influenced by this letter. Other versions may have been - but the point is that Tati's ideas and story were inevitably influenced by other factors as well. And throughout the mid to late Fifties, when Tati was penning his "love letter from a father to a daughter", he was also living with his legitimate daughter, Sophie. Indeed, his whole experience of what life with a daughter was like would have been drawn largely from his life with Sophie. That would even extend to any life he might ruefully imagine with Helga (of whom he had virtually no personal, first-hand knowledge).

You refuse to allow for reading Tati's script as being anything other than an account of his feelings about Helga. I can only suggest, as I have suggested all along, that that is one reading, but it is not the only one (in a story that is never literally about a father and a daughter anyway). Chomet, however, does not disallow you your reading. In certain ways he encourages it. What is the problem here, exactly?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Cus,
first of all, McDonald himself writes at some length about the people that Tati was casting for The Illusionist before it got shelved. I infer from this that it was "supposed to be a movie" by its own author.

Chomet has never claimed to 'speak for a dead woman (Sophie)'. All he has done is dedicate his film to her, and state in interview (although not actually state in the film) his belief that the script was a love letter to Sophie.

Tati chose an allegorical form for his story, featuring a protagonist who shared his (birth)name but was not (in any straightforward way) himself. Allegory is a form that naturally invites and accommodates more than one meaning and interpretation. Your insistence that Tati's film was simply about Tati's relationship to Helga (and about nothing else) runs against the very allegorical form that Tati adopted for his story. Chomet, however, has respected and maintained Tati's chosen form. And by restricting Tati's history to the story of Helga, you in fact are the one who is ignoring the full set of historical factors that might have informed and inspired Tati's writing. There is more to Tati's history than just Helga (although I do not doubt her significance), and more to Tati's scripted story too. I have never denied that the 'Helga story' might be reflected in Tati's script (and Chomet's film highlights this very aspect of Tati's history, amongst others). You deny that there could be anything else to it.

That said, had Tati made the film in the early Sixties, the 'Helga reading' that you insist is its bread and butter would have been entirely unavailable to the average viewer, who did not then have McDonald's letter to decode this particular aspect of Tati's allegory.

Cus

4 years ago
"Tati chose an allegorical form for his story, featuring a protagonist who shared his (birth)name but was not (in any straightforward way) himself".

This is not the case this is a Chomet addition as is the name given to the character Alice.

"You deny that there could be anything else to it".

No I have not argued dismissively of another strand of Tati life being present in his script; what I have argued is that Helga's story is central to The Illusionist script about a uneasy parental relationship between a father and a daughter that moans a passing of a era that both his(Tati’s) and her(Helga’s) existence is forever tragically tied.

Anton Biet

4 years ago
Cus, if you read McDonald's

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Whoops, sorry for the above. I shouldn't write in transit...

Cus, if you read McDonald's own synopsis of "the original script for l'Illusionniste" (paragraph 6 of his letter), you will immediately recognise that its relationship to Tati's own life is allegorical, or if you prefer, figurative. Tati never practised as a stage illusionist, did not take up residence in Prague, or even in Czechoslovakia, and certainly did not live there with a young woman; and when Helga was a young woman, Tati was in fact a successful filmmaker (who did not, at the time, meet her once, let alone live with her). The original script was not by any measure a literalist biopic - and Chomet has remained true to the allegorical form which Tati chose for it. Tati may not have called the girl Alice (I simply don't know) - but I somehow suspect that if Tati had given her the name Helga in his script (which I take it you are implying was the case), McDonald would have made a point of mentioning this. In McDonald's summary, she is just 'the young girl'. Chomet has given her a name - Alice - that is neutral (within the argument encompassed here). What is your point? I am not aware that the statement of mine that you have chosen to criticise is in any way controversial.

Any parent can tell you that watching children grow up and become more independent inevitably brings with it a melancholy sense of the passage of time and of one's own increasing obsolescence. That is the allegorical aspect of Tati's script that evidently struck a particular chord with Chomet. It strikes a chord with me as well (I'm a father too, not that I would have to be to be moved by this aspect of Chomet's film). But Chomet has not excluded the reading that you prefer. It's right there. Everyone ought to be happy (well, in a melancholy manner, anyway). But no. Let's all hate Chomet, the nasty, bitter cad (or whatever) for having the audacity to make a film rich enough to appeal (or otherwise) to a broader audience than the (relatively small) one obsessed with the unpleasant particulars of Tati's biographical history - particulars that Tati himself chose both to live out, and to conceal from the public eye.

@lemkess

4 years ago
Well I just want to say that I thought Alice was a bitch.

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
A question Anton hasn't answered (although it has been asked), or he is at least as yet to express any salient view of it, is the intrigueing hypothetical tendered by 'chomet' earlier within this thread. It would be interesting to gauge Anton's opinion, especially in light of the this film's poor showing at the box office, and moreover, in conjunction with the accompanying furore surrounding the script (the very fact that we are talking about it, thus confirming it).

Whilst the effect of Mr Mcdonald's letter and subsequent stance cannot easily be measured in terms of how this film's performance at the box office has subsequently fared (if any). It would, however, be interesting to speculate, if, somehow The Illusionist's general appeal could have been in some way heightened in the eyes of the public, and therefore its overall poor box-office performance lessened by a strategy of reconciliation over outright 'remonstrance' (and I use this word loosely, as Sylvain Chomet's varying accounts as to how he came by this script have at times been anything but 'reasoned', or consistent) with Tati's estranged family....

Cus

4 years ago
To quote McDonald' letter

"Tati had set l'Illusionniste in the Czech capital city of Prague. The mother of his eldest child Herta Schiel was of duel nationality and escaped the German annexation of Vienna using Czech papers. She remained a Czech citizen throughout the war. Tati always referred to Herta as being Czech".

As for Chomet's relationships to his own children he refers to his likewise estranged daughter, like Tati's own relationship with Helga, as the key to his understand Tati's motives for writing the script, "I have young children, a four-year-old and a two-year-old. But I also have a daughter who is 17 who I don’t live with because I separated from her mother. She was 12 when I started the project and you can feel things changing."

Cus

4 years ago
The photo that Tatischeff the magician pulls from his wallet at the end of the movie is inscribed "Sophie Tatischeff” so it can be concluded that Tatischeff's relationship with Alice is not about Sophie.

So has Chomet taken Tati's intended apology to his estranged daughter, Helga and dusted it down as a second hand gift to his own daughter who he does not live with? If this is the case isn't just a little bit warped on Chomet's part to deny Helga her father apology that Chomet, "bitterly dismisses McDonald's claim as "madness", asking how could Tati have written something so personal about a daughter he never lived with?”

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
I have already suggested reasons why i think the film has not been a massive box office success above. It is not being particularly widely distributed (or advertised); it is a 'foreign film'; it is an animation that is not in 3D and not exactly targeted at children either; it does not have a happy ending; and its link to Tati has little value to a mainstream filmgoing public that will largely not have heard of, let alone have any interest in, Tati and his oeuvre. I seriously doubt that the specific ins and outs of the argument found here are of much interest to the mainstream public (lord knows I'm losing interest, just through sheer bludgeoning repetition) - although they may serve to blacken the film's reputation generally. But you know what - lots of films do not do well at the box office. One perhaps pertinent example is Tati's Playtime, now considered a masterpiece, but a failure at the time of its release. If a film like Salt performs better than The Illusionist, so be it. This hardly tells us anything revelatory about the specific qualities of The illusionist. If we measured a film's qualities by box office success, then Michael Bay must be some kind of filmmaking genius. Perhaps he is.

This whole 'strategy of reconciliation' thing just seems to me a very odd requirement or expectation of a filmmaker. It was for Tati to forge a reconciliation with his abandoned family - although of course he never did. Chomet is just making a film - although I would say that his inclusion in his film of a likeness of Helga's husband might be interpreted as a filmmaker's gesture of reconciliation (in the sense that it gives McDonald something like what he wanted). If Chomet had engaged in some kind of grand exercise of reconciliation with the Tatischeff family, perhaps he might have delivered the sort of redemptive story arc that certain mainstream filmgoers (myself excluded) seem to love - but this would hardly have been true to Tati's script, or indeed to Tati's real life. Tati had literally decades of opportunities to be reconciled to Helga, but never saw her again, and even rejected a written request for help from her. If you and Cus and others would prefer a story (an inherently dishonest story) of family reconciliation to have been written into Chomet's adaptation, and for Tati's lugubrious script to have been transformed by Chomet into a sort of happy love-in, good for you. It is a bit like the fact that I'd prefer the ending of Return Of the Jedi to be completely different. It is an issue of personal taste. I do wonder, though, in the case of Chomet's film, how many of our hypothetical 'general mainstream filmgoers' could honestly care less, or even knows how Tati is.

That said, I have little trouble imagining why Chomet might find McDonald's attempts to co-opt and control not only the interpretation, but also the very form, of Chomet's film, a tad irritating. Chomet is the filmmaker here - McDonald can of course respond to the finished product any way he pleases. But, you know, I've never met Chomet, I can only speak for him in an absurdly speak for him any mo

You know, I keep reading second-hand about all these varying accounts from Chomet about the script's acquisition. Personally, I've read only three or four interviews with him, which seemed pretty consistent to me, but no doubt he has given hundreds more. Could somebody actually link a list of the inconsistent ones so that we can all see the inconsistencies for ourselves.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
whoops, penultimate paragraph got garbled. Here's how it should have been:

But, you know, I've never met Chomet, I can only speak for him in an absurdly speculative manner - just as we can all only speak for Tati and his intentions in a speculative manner. If you want to know specifically why Chomet did X or Y, ask him, not me. Chomet's film, however, is in the public domain. That's what I am interested in talking about - and that is what I think is being unfairly treated by some of the comments here.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Hi Cus
your quote about Czechoslovakia is in fact the very first argument you presented to me in this thread. It's like an anniversary. We should get balloons or something. For my response, I direct you to my response to your argument there, way, way, way above. Your quote demonstrates my point: the relationship of the story in Tati's script to Tati's own life is allegorical, or if you prefer, figurative. The character Tatischeff's journey to Czechoslovakia with Alice does not correspond literally to Tati's actual biography (he never did travel to Czechoslovakia with a young girl) - but it does correspond figuratively, for those in the know, to aspects of his life (by alluding to the birthplace of the mother whom he abandoned along with their infant child Helga). I think you actually agree with this point a little more than you appear to think you do. The story in Tati's script is a non-literal allegory which requires some imaginative decoding. McDonald's letter provides a key to one way of decoding it. Welcome,to use your phrase, to the same pge. This is what I have been saying all along.

i am not sure what point you are making in your second para. Chomet has left his film open to being read as allegorising Tati's relationship with Helga. He just thinks it's about much more than that - and he has also emphasised the time that Tati was forced to be away from Sophie while on set for Mon Oncle.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Cus, I'm not sure I understand your question. This is what tends to happen when you try to reduce allegorical texts to singular, literal meanings. It is seldom a neat fit. This no doubt has something to do with why Tati chose this form.
Where, btw, does that quote actually come from? Just curious. It sounds kinda familiar, but I'd like to see who actually wrote it, and in which context. It is written in the third person, so it seems unlikely to be a quote from an interview with Chomet - and the adverb "bitterly" implies which side of the argument this quote is coming from....

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
Surely the emotional appeal of this film, by embraceing what is, for all intents and purposes, a heartfelt and deeply tragic backstory, one laden with all the gravitas of a family's pain - would have, even if not by directly portraying it, ultimately have benefitted this piece by the simple acknowledgement of the facts as outlined by Richard McDonald? Instead, those persons and company's involved in the production of The Illusionist have seemed bent on stokeing the flames of this arguement still futher by riding rough-shod over the sensibilities of Tati's remaining family. A family whom, rightly in this observers opinion have decided to fight back, standing as one against The Man. Which, given The Illusionist's limited release, even in territories where it would have been expected to perform the strongest, it has subsequently failed to do so....

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
With hindsight, could this therefore be deemed a glaring error of judgement by those concerned not to have sought reconciliation, given that, as it certainly seems apparent to this observer - the one thing people are talking about in relation to this film is the controversy that enshrouds it (again, this thread, one amongst many on the internet, offering proof conclusive)....

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Some have expressed this view more than once in this discussion. Others (myself included) have found the film to be deeply affecting just the way it is. You would see the film stripped of all mystery and nuance, and prefer to have its meaning reduced, closed and handed to you on a plate. I wouldn't. I'm glad to have read McDonald's letter - but I think it serves the film better as a paratext than as an integral part of Chomet's film (which would then be miles apart from Tati's original). To me, that would be a very different film - a sentimental melodrama. And I seriously doubt that such a version of the film would have got any more bums on seats. No-one would be talking about the film then - they'd have nothing to which to attach their negative feelings. But who knows? Sorry you all hate the film so much. On the other hand, you all seem to enjoy hating the film so much, so maybe it's not such a bad thing after all...

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
As it stands there is a lot of bad feeling surrounding this film, bad feeling which could easily have been avoided, which, in other words - could deem this production to be at least one exception to the rule whereby 'all publicity is good publicity'.

Apologies Anton, the website has been unable to post my full comment until now:/

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
Overall however, my point is that, given the sensitive backstory, one whose threads entwine the very fabric of this film - how little effort would it have taken on the part of those concened to have put the remaining members of Tati's family 'in the picture' so to speak - and by this I discount any supposed depiction of Helga's husband, given that the maker's of the film have directly dismissed Helga and her life, shunning the family completely. Why do that, and yet publically insist that the apology is to Sophie, despite the expliceit evidence to the contrary. So with this in mind, is it necessarily wrong for Tati's estranged family to have a voice and express an opinion, one for which the foundations seem far surer and much less shaky than Chomet's varied accounts as to how he came by a script.

Helen Warren

4 years ago
Well I'm tempted to say that if anyone has got anything to hide then it isn't Sylvain Chomet! In fact, I'd go so far to say that its the faceless posters on this thread who are unwilling to show themselves that have something to hide!! The exception being Anton of course, whose photograph lends him a playfully cute boyishness that so far belies his fiercely inteligent academia!! x

Cus

4 years ago
The Illusionist Q&A at this weeks TIIF which Chomet didn’t attend as he is apparently “scared of flying” even though his own estranged daughter was conceived and lives in Canada. Seven years after Triplets and five years in the making he resorts to sending his producer Bob Last and (I think) assistant director Paul Dutton to promote and speak on his behalf.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPBNsGgyEXA

Avoiding any mention of the controversy discussed here Bob Last opens with, “Jacques Tati had a very troubled life in many ways and one of his great regrets is that he never had a close relationship with his daughter Sophie. Many people feel that the character of the young girl was his way of trying to explain to Sophie that his life, his art, his work took him away from her, so it’s a bit of a concede on our part and one that we will probably never know the answer too”.

Cus

4 years ago
A statement that conveniently ignores that Tati’s studio was at the bottom of the family home with his artistic collaborator Jacques Lagrange living next door and that Sophie was on set of both Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle and later worked as and assistant editor, being trained personally by her father, on Playtime, Traffic, and Forza Bastia. Every written biographical account of the relationship between Jacques and Sophie says that he doted on her and that she was totally dedicated to him.

“Sophie died in about eh 2002 is that right Bob? So Sylvain never actually spoke to Sophie or ever met Sophie but it’s his interpretation of what Jacques was trying to do with his original story”.

Paul Dutton

Cus

4 years ago
“How did Sylvain get a hold of it (the script)?”

Q&A audience

“He was seeking the rights to use a Jacques Tati script in Bellville and so he was talking to the estate and emm ?????? actually never directly talked to Sophie I don’t think but they actually suggested to him that he might like to take a look as they loved Triplets so much”.

Bob Last

Sophie Tatischeff died Sophie Tatischeff died on 27 October 2001, almost two years before the 11th June 2003 French release of Les Triplettes de Belleville.

Cus

4 years ago
"After a long conversation Chomet revealed he had obtained the script for l'Illusionniste from my Aunt Sophie Tatischeff following nothing more than a single telephone conversation he had with her whilst seeking permission to use a segment of Jour de Fete in his Belleville Rendez-Vous animated movie. Sophie died regrettably young in October 2001 a full two years before Belleville was released in late 2003 and it is questionable that she would have released what she had protected for so long to an unknown director she would never in person meet and who at the time had nothing to his name but a well received short animation. It was impossible for Sophie to give Chomet the script for l'Illusionniste after she had seen Belleville Rendez-Vous as he has often been quoted as saying".

Richard McDonald
http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/pages-for-twitter...

Cus

4 years ago
Chomet, who is based in Edinburgh, featured an excerpt of Tati’s live-action film Jour de Fête in Belleville and befriended Tati’s daughter Sophie Tatischeff. She was so impressed with the French director that she gave him the script for The Illusionist.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland...

Cus

4 years ago
“He had been given the script by Tati’s daughter Sophie, after she was impressed by Belleville Rendez-vous, and so he just concentrated on the story in front of him and what she wanted”.

http://www.bigissuescotland.com/features/view/328

Cus

4 years ago
“The film eventually came to light after Chomet was given the script by Mr Tati's daughter, Sophie Tatischeff, in 2000, two years before her death”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news...

Cus

4 years ago
“when I went to Cannes [for Belleville’s world premiere in 2003] I read the script she had passed on to me through her will. I was reading the script on the train and I was completely surprised by the beauty and emotion of it”.
http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/26048...

Cus

4 years ago
“One day I contacted the estate of Jacques Tati, Jerome Deschamps and Mikall Micheff at Les Films de Mon Oncle, and they passed me the script – and I fell in love with it”.



“We bought the rights to make the film and Deschamps and Micheff were both very happy with it, so there is no controversy”.
http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/features/2...

Cus

4 years ago
our it wasn't handed over by anyone but was,

"Catalogued in the CNC (Centre National de la Cinématographie) archives under the impersonal moniker ‘Film Tati Nº 4’, this un-produced script has waited half a century for hands to flick through its pages and realize its potential".
http://www.theplayground.co.uk/film/home.php?aID=...

Cus

4 years ago
or perhaps

"it was obvious it was for Sophie. And I knew it from her,"

“And when that happened I felt it was very unfair to get criticised even before the film had screened, by someone who didn't dare even to talk to us and didn't dare to see the film”
http://news.scotsman.com/movies/Interview-Sylvain...

Gordon

4 years ago
Wow!! This reads like a kid who can't keep his story straight, or at least has forgotten the lies he's told before layering new ones across the old! I'm suprised there aren't more journalists digging a little a bit deeper on this one!

Essentially, someone is telling the truth, but it doesn't look as though its Chomet!

Cus

4 years ago
http://www.kippaxtoday.co.uk/14072/Interview-Sylv...

and what about this account of his own movie

"He is reconstructing a family and the girl is craving a father figure. It all works perfectly,"
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jun/10/sylvai...

Further little white lies perhaps?

Aldorf

4 years ago
Richard Mcdonald was invited by Chomet and duly went to his studio, was he not?

Cus

4 years ago
"Helga wrote her letter to Tati sometime after Christmas of 1955".

McDonalds letter does not actually state that the Christmas Eve bombing was in 1955 only that she had became trapped in "As a refugee Helga Marie-Jeanne had become trapped in Marrakech during the Moroccan 1955 uprising for independence against its French protectorate. Having been at the centre of the Christmas Eve bombing of the main Marrakech market in which she witnessed the massacre of a number of her boarding school friends, Helga Marie-Jeanne was actively encouraged by the French Consulate to flee Morocco for her own safety. Holding only a French passport she wrote to her father in hope that he would show compassion towards her plight and help her escape the hostilities that had built up in Morocco by offering her safe passage back to her home city of Paris".

Cus

4 years ago
Excuse my writing in transit: )

McDonalds letter does not actually state that the Christmas Eve bombing was in 1955 only that "As a refugee Helga Marie-Jeanne................

and

No matter how the postal service was then(even in 1950's Marrakech was only a three hour flight across the Meditation to Paris and Helga’s letter was sent via the French Consulate) Helga's letter would have had a whole 12 months to arrive to coincide with Tati putting pen to paper for his ”Love letter from a father to a daughter” whose contents is ingrained with the life of Helga.

Cus

4 years ago
"If you and Cus and others would prefer a story (an inherently dishonest story) of family reconciliation to have been written into Chomet's adaptation, and for Tati's lugubrious script to have been transformed by Chomet into a sort of happy love-in, good for you".

Chomet himself says that is the movie he made.

"He is reconstructing a family and the girl is craving a father figure. It all works perfectly,"
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jun/10/sylvai....

keyboard terrorist

4 years ago
If he hasn't then he won't mind answering some of the questions posted here? Personally I feel sorry for him. Christ, he couldn't even go to Canada to promote his film! This might be subjective, but perhaps he hasn't got that much control over what he can and can't say? This in turn may have resulted in Anton's stance, not helping Chomet, who may feel quite isolated at the moment?

By the way, I myself am incredibly shy, with little desire and many years past caring about self promotion. Plus, I don't feel my mind is fresh enough to get the ring with such intellectual heavy weights.

Andy

4 years ago
But aren't you a faceless poster as well?

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
And is that not the point? That Helga's paratext has been denegrated and subjugated to such an extent that it resembles little more than a disembodied inconvenient footnote - one thats almost best expressed in victorian terms; like little children, seen but not heard. But this too allows little scope for Helga's paratext, with Chomet having consistently eschewed any notion of Helga's story out of the frame(s) in its entirity (see the recently provided links)...

Aldorf

4 years ago
By dismissing both Helga and repackaging the allegory, almost absurdly in this observers opinion, as both 'a love letter to a city', and futhermore; 'an apology to a daughter'. The daughter's in question being Chomet's own, and Tati's youngest daughter, Sophie. A woman whose life and priviledged upbringing, as divulged elsewhere in this thread, proved to be the polar opposite to that of her impoverished and abandoned elder sister....

Aldorf

4 years ago
In doing so, Chomet has contrived to remove the still beating heart of this piece. And yet, were it not for Richard McDonald's letter there would be no paratext at all in the public domain, as the film makers, for reasons best known to themselves, have willfully chosen to omit this wholly intrinsical and highly emotive thread - dishing out instead their most sincere 'heartfelt' to all and sundry, to anybody else in fact, other than Tati's intended recipient....

Aldorf

4 years ago
That said, nobody is argueing that the story of I'Illusionniste should be Helga's story alone. Her's, in many ways, stands on its own two feet - apart (but not separate) from her paternal family. But what is in question are Chomet's motive's for her omittance - not necessarily from within the piece itself, but from all of its accompanying publicity - thus relegating her existence once again, but this time not by her father; "but by the slanted agenda’s of individuals and estates who seek to embroider the separate strands of their own lives into the Jacques Tati myth at the expense of those biologically tied".

Cus

4 years ago

Rachel Seal

4 years ago
Anton's Silence after Gus/Cus posted those links is so far speaking volumes...

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
hey, give me a break - I've had to travel to and from London twice in the last three days for work, and contend with a series of rolling deadlines and family illness. Have been following the discussion with (semi-)interest, and if I can find time, shall reply as fully as I can (to some 20 or so posts) tomorrow. Also, for the record, my silences are never capitalised...

It is, though, hard to muster any enthusiasm about posting further here when several of my lengthier recent posts have mysteriously vanished. Out of curiosity, is anyone else having this problem? (Apex has implied a similar problem)

Meredith

4 years ago
For me it does now seem that Chomet has been exceptionally deceitful now that I've read his bumbling differing accounts of how he had obtained the script.

Chomets description on the central theme to the movie; "He is reconstructing a family and the girl is craving a father figure. It all works perfectly," is appallingly insensitive to the family history of Jacques Tati and especially to Tati’s neglected daughter. Chomet's statement reads as pure spite when taking into account that Helga wrote to Tati seeking her father's help at exactly the time of The Illusionists first draft.

Frank.

4 years ago
All of you. Anton has more integrity and more intellect, and knows more about movies. You're defeating your own point and acting like the Tea Party. I'd consider packing it in and go back to doing whatever you do when you're not getting hysterical about great movies.

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
But Fwanky-Baby...I beg to differ, and if you or anybody else cannot see Chomet's chasmic inconsistencies, half-truths, blatant mistruths, and outright lies, all expounded on within this thread, then I for one can only take you to be the kind've spoon-fed induvidual incapable of forming your own thoughts and conclusions beyond a dull saccharine-sweet drip-feed of; "well if its in the papers so it must be true" kind of attitude. So are you really that inert?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Cus writes: "The Bombing could well have been 1954 leading up to the successful uprising for independence in 1955..."
You know what, Cus, you're right. The bombing could well have been 1954, or 1953, or even earlier – but given that both of us are using McDonald's letter as our sole evidence (I have not been able to find any reference to this bombing anywhere on-line apart from McDonald's letter, and frankly cannot afford the time to go digging for facts in a newspaper archive in London), we can only go by what McDonald actually says. He lists a series of events in sequence, with clear tense markers:
"As a refugee Helga Marie-Jeanne had become trapped in Marrakech during the Moroccan 1955 uprising for independence against its French protectorate [note the use of the pluperfect tense in a main clause, marking a background frame for the narrative events in the subsequent clauses – i.e. the subsequent clauses refer to events during, or after, the 1955 uprising]. Having been at the centre of the Christmas Eve bombing of the main Marrakech market in which she witnessed the massacre of a number of her boarding school friends [note that the past participle marks the bombing as prior to the event of the following main clause], Helga Marie-Jeanne was actively encouraged by the French Consulate to flee Morocco for her own safety [main clause temporally/causally related to preceding participial clause, i.e. it was after the 1955 bombing that Helga was actively encouraged to flee, whether in very late – post-Christmas Eve – 1955, or in 1956]. Holding only a French passport she wrote to her father in hope that he would show compassion towards her plight and help her escape the hostilities that had built up in Morocco by offering her safe passage back to her home city of Paris [this sentence clearly follows from the preceding one – i.e. she writes to her father after being encouraged to flee, which was after the New year's Eve bombing, which was part of the 1955 uprising]"

I have no idea if that is what McDonald meant to say – but it is what he actually says. His words place the Christmas Eve bombing in 1955. Not that it really matters, of course – it is not as though receiving that letter from Helga - the one whose plea he summarily rejected – is all that happened to Tati in the Fifties, or in 1955 (or, if we take McDonald's words at face value, more probably some time in 1956, given the sequence of events). He was also spending much of that time with, e.g., his daughter Sophie. Why are you so insistent that Sophie could not also have been an influence, perhaps even a greater influence, on his allegorical, fictive story about an aging entertainer living with a much younger woman?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
"That said, nobody is argueing that the story of I'Illusionniste should be Helga's story alone"
Hey Aldorf (aka 'Chomet'?), reading back through this thread, it strikes me that actually quite a lot of people have been arguing precisely that until rather recently.
Your concession here that the supposed omission of Helga is "not necessarily from within the piece itself" in fact picks up what I said in my opening contribution to this thread: " I see no reason why an allegorical reference to Helga, and to Tati's regrets about abandoning her, cannot also be traced in Chomet's film (for those who know the family history - surely a small constituency of the audience)." We may now be in agreement on this (we seem to be), but it has been a long and circuitous route that has brought us to this agreement. Who would have imagined that we would find some common ground? We can argue endlessly about Tati's and Chomet's motives and intentions without getting anywhere, because they are ultimately unknowable - but it is the film itself that really matters. I'd be (mildly) curious to know what McDonald (or more importantly Helga) makes of it, if either of them ever sees it - but they are not, and never were, its only target audience.

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
The point is, and on this I'm sure you'll agree, that Chomet et al refuse to allow for the Helga reading in any way, shape, or form, which has, broadly speaking has caused this entire furore.

So:

"Given the realities of the international postal system at the time, it would seem simply implausible that the first version - the 1955 version - of the script that Tati wrote could have been influenced by this letter."

This is highly speculative. Could you please outline the reality's of the Morrocan postal system, and any subsequent experience you may have had with them;)

The only way I can reasonably suggest this be resolved is over a frothy-skinny-focchacino down the boozer...up for it?

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Hey a_o_t_c,
" the maker's of the film have directly dismissed Helga and her life, shunning the family completely"
That is simply not true. Chomet has never suggested that Helga does not exist, or that her life was anything other than as McDonald has recorded. He just happens to feel that his film is more about Sophie (while still leaving his film open to being read differently). He also hasn't shunned the family completely – but McDonald, when he did meet with Chomet, was "very aggressive" (electric sheep magazine), so it is hardly surprising that Chomet did not pursue further contact with him. McDonald's letter, it might be added, addresses not Chomet's actual film, but a version of the film's script written before their meeting took place.

" is it necessarily wrong for Tati's estranged family to have a voice and express an opinion"
Of course not. Nor is it necessarily wrong for others to voice and express a different opinion.a

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Thanks for all these, Cus.
I'm having difficulty posting anything on this page (overloaded with replies and sub-replies and sub-sub-replies?), so I'll put my response, which is lengthy, on the next page, at the very end of the thread.
Also, if any moderator is reading this, I stopped getting e-mail notifications of 'all new comments' about a week ago...

Cus

4 years ago
Ok Anton here is another piece of quite solid evidence that is supported by all parties and adds further weight that Helga was central to Tati's writing of the Illusionist.

“Tati, in keeping with his preference of not working with professional actors, had singled out Sylvette David who had modelled for Picasso for the role as the teenage girl due to her resemblance to Bridget Bardot. In her letter from Morocco Helga Marie-Jeanne had innocently joked that the locals of Marrakech had nicknamed her the brunette Bardot of the Sahara. David did not sit for Picasso until 1954 so it can only be concluded that Tati did not know of her until after this date”.

Richard McDonald 26th May 2010 quoting a letter sent by Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel to her Father Jacques Tatischeff from 1955 http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/pages-for-twitter...

Cus

4 years ago
Do you really see it as a simple father and daughter story? Because there is a sexuality there as well, which was covert and latent, but it was there. Do you not see this at all?

“In the original script maybe it was a bit more obvious because the woman character was a bit older. When Tati originally wrote the script he actually contacted a woman to play the role and she really looked like Brigitte Bardot, and she was a model for Picasso at the time”.

Sylvain Chomet in the above interview.


Cus

4 years ago
“I had offers from the film world - Jacques Tati approached me in a Paris street - it was generally supposed that one had to sleep with film producers, and I wasn't having that."

11th December interview with Sylvette David http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2004/dec/1...



Cus

4 years ago
Anton I’m just taking a stance in opposition to your view that Chomet has not been spiteful in his depiction of the Jacques Tati’s Illusionist when all the evidence that we have makes a clear case that it was greatly influenced by the guilt he felt for his estranged daughter Helga who’s significance to the script Chomet, for whatever reason, has attempted to conceal yet still has the audacity to promote his adaptation as “A love letter from a father to a daughter”.

It has been proven that Chomet has constantly lied about how he obtained the script; it can therefore be safely concluded that it is no inconceivable that he has also lied about many aspects, including its intended meaning, of The Illusionist.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Please note: this is in response to a sub-threads on the previous page headed "apex_of_the_curve: A question Anton hasn't answered". I'm posting it here because I'm having problems adding stuff to page 1 – but if anyone wants to check the references, Cus has very exhaustively provided all links there. Also, please note that this is necessarily lengthy, as it is in response to a large number of posts. Here it is in parts.

In working out how Tati came to have Tati's script for The Illusionist, it is worth teasing apart what Chomet himself has actually said in interviews (which is obviously relevant to the discussion here) from what others have said about or for him (which is irrelevant). It is also worth observing how easily what others have said about or for Chomet gets cited as though it were Chomet's own words.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Here's what Chomet has actually said:
Cited from an interview in Pathé's production notes: "There was a moment in that movie [Belleville Rendez-vous] where the triplets are watching television in bed. I thought it would be funny to have the cartoon characters view a live-action clip close in feeling to its Tour de France cycling story. Jacques Tati’s wonderful Jour de fête/Holiday sprang to mind because it featured him as a postman on a bicycle. So Didier Brunner (the producer) contacted the Tati estate, run by his sole surviving daughter Sophie Tatischeff, for permission to use an extract. Her authorisation was based on pictures and a set of design developments for The Triplets of Belleville. She clearly liked what she saw because she mentioned an un-filmed script by her father and hinted that my animation style might suit it... Because the character of The Illusionist is definitely not another Monsieur Hulot, Sophie Tatischeff didn’t want to see any of that character’s familiar trademarks dramatised by another actor. So animation seemed to be the ideal medium to solve all those problems by providing the ideal way to create an animated version of Tati playing The Illusionist character from scratch. Sadly, Sophie died four months after our first contact. But the relatives who took over the estate [the reference here is to Jérome Deschamps and his partner Macha Makeieff; Deschamps is a (distant) blood-relative of Tati: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%A9r%C3%B4me_Des... agreed with her decision to entrust me with the family jewels. I had no intention of doing anything they wouldn’t approve of and because we shared the same precise vision they felt in completely safe hands."
Sight & Sound, Sept 2010, p.45: "We contacted the Tati estate, run by his daughter Sophie Tatischeff, for permission to use an extract from his wonderful Jour de Fête in Belleville Rendez-vous. Her authorization was based on pictures and a set of design developments, and she clearly liked what she saw, because she mentioned an unfilmed script by her father and hinted that my animation style might suit it."
Tom Seymour's IV for LWLies (above): "well we approached her when we were doing The Triplets of Belleville in Montreal because we needed to get some footage from one of Tati’s films, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, to put in Triplets, so one of our producers in France actually contacted Sophie Tatischeff to get some of this material. We showed her some elements of Triplets and then she had this idea that my kind of animation, my graphic style, would work really well with her Dad’s script. I was supposed to meet her two months later but she died in the meantime so I never met her, or even got to talk to her on the phone, so it was a very brief encounter. When Triplets was finished I was going to Cannes to present the film and I asked the producer to pass me the script so I could read it on the train."
Edinburgh Festival Interview, 2010: "when I went to Cannes [for Belleville’s world premiere in 2003] I read the script she had passed on to me through her will. I was reading the script on the train and I was completely surprised by the beauty and emotion of it."
Electric Sheep Magazine: "When I was working on Belleville Rendezvous I contacted Jacques Tati’s daughter, Sophie Tatisheff, to seek permission to use a segment of Jour de Fête in the film. To get her authorisation we showed her the material, small clips we had ready at the time and the script of Belleville Rendez-Vous, and she really liked it. All this rang a bell, and she remembered she had this script from her father. She knew that it was connected to her, because it is obvious that it is a letter from a father to his daughter. Tati wrote the script over quite a long period, three or four years [1955-9], and Sophie was 13 when he started working on it [1959-60], so he saw her change into a woman. She gave us permission to use the clip from Jour de Fête and she mentioned the script, but that was it. She died shortly after our conversation and so, unfortunately, we never met her. One day I contacted the estate of Jacques Tati, Jerome Deschamps and Mikall Micheff [i.e. Macha Makeieff, badly transcribed by the journalist] at Les Films de Mon Oncle, and they passed me the script – and I fell in love with it. I really loved the simplicity of the story and this very strong, beautiful relationship between father and daughter. It also felt very close to my relationship with my own daughter, who was five years old when we started the film and who is now 17. We bought the rights to make the film and Deschamps and Micheff [Makeieff] were both very happy with it."

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
The only real inconsistencies that I am able to spot here are a mistaken reference (in the LWLies interview) to Jour De Fête as Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (although of course a poster for the latter is also reproduced in Belleville Rendez-vous, so this may not be a mistake anyway), and a slight confusion as to whether Sophie died two or four months after first contact was established with her (after all, this was a decade ago now). The line that you (Cus) cite from the Scotsman IV ("it was obvious it was for Sophie, and I knew it from her"), is also consistent with this account. Even if they never actually met, there was a line of communication from Sophie to Chomet about her father's script, as Chomet makes crystal clear throughout.

On the other hand, Cus' citations from the TIFF Q&A, Timesonline, bigissuescotland and The Telegraph all paint a slightly (although not what I would call a dramatically) different picture – but they are also not quotes from Chomet. He cannot be blamed for the confused accounts given by others.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
The other issue that has been raised here is the question of communications between McDonald and Chomet (summarized by Aldorf, who asks: "Richard Mcdonald was invited by Chomet and duly went to his studio, was he not?").

Here is McDonald's complete account (from his letter): "On hearing that Sylvain Chomet had started production on l'Illusionniste in what for centuries has been my father's family home county of Northumberland on the Scottish border I confidentially approached him with the difficult true story that lay at the heart of my grandfather's script. Gratefully acknowledging l'Illusionniste true meaning that he had apparently always known was written by Tati as a "personal letter to his daughter" Chomet invited me to his Edinburgh studio to read the script he had adapted and to see the progress he was making.
After a long conversation Chomet revealed he had obtained the script for l'Illusionniste from my Aunt Sophie Tatischeff following nothing more than a single telephone conversation he had with her whilst seeking permission to use a segment of Jour de Fete in his Belleville Rendez-Vous animated movie."
The final paragraph here involves an error on either McDonald's or Chomet's part (the personal phone call with Sophie) which Chomet has been careful to correct many times since. Otherwise, McDonald's account is entirely consistent with Chomet's accounts (above) of how he acquired the script. For what it is worth, McDonald's claim to have "confidentially approached" Chomet automatically ceased to be true the moment that he published his letter.

Now let's look at Chomet's account of this meeting (electric sheep magazine): "I received a letter from a man called Richard MacDonald, who said he was the grandson of Jacques Tati. He told me the story that Tati had met someone at the Lido in Paris during the war and she became pregnant with a little girl. But Tati was married at the time, and he didn’t want to take responsibility. After I received this letter I decided to meet with this man, because I was interested in the details of this story. But when we met he became very aggressive and accused me of provocation and all that, and I said: ‘Look, if you are telling such a strong, emotional story about a father and a daughter you have to live with your daughter, you have to experience that. And that’s why I don’t see any reason why this script should have been dedicated to this girl he never lived with and who he didn’t see growing up.’ So I told him that if he had any problem with that, he should go speak to the estate of Jacques Tati. And he went off and I never saw him again. Then one day, there was this article in The Guardian saying all these terrible things about the film by a person who had never actually seen it."

Then there is this from the Scotsman: "when that happened [McDonald publishing his letter days before the world premier of The Illusionist], I felt it was very unfair to get criticised even before the film had screened, by someone who didn't dare even to talk to us and didn't dare to see the film."

Again, there is no inconsistency. In their first (and last, as it happens) meeting, Chomet had invited McDonald to talk to the Tati estate about any problems he had, but McDonald didn't take up this invitation – and he published his highly critical letter of Chomet's film before ever seeing the finished product. Which is a pity – because if he had seen it, he might have recognized that Chomet, who was after all "interested in the details of this story", has in fact, despite his own rather different personal take on the film, addressed many of McDonald's concerns by making the story of Helga one of its allegorical strands.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
This discussion has had its moments, but for me it has become bludgeoningly repetitive in its circularity, somewhat vindictive at times, and it has reached a point where the positions of both sides are not only clear, but also clearly not going to change. I don't have any desire to spend further hours picking over this particular carcass, so I'm going to let you all express your inevitable counterarguments and disagreements, and bid you all happy trails. See you on another thread.

Anton Bitel

4 years ago

Cus

4 years ago
Deschamps is not a blood relative of Tati as discussed here.
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discussion:Jacques_T...

Cus

4 years ago

A point verified in Mcdonald letter

After Chomet became aware of the troubled story that lay beneath l'Illusionniste he informed the current caretakers of my grandfather's estate, Jerome Deschamps and Mikall Micheff at Les Films de Mon Oncle, who without consent published the most deplorable inaccurate account of my family in the biography Jacques Tati by Jean-Philippe Guerand. This intolerable disfiguring of our lives provoked us as a family and all that remains of the Tatischeff line with no choice but to finally put on record our true heritage to which everybody who is currently promoting themselves through my grandfathers celebrity have no legitimate claim whatsoever.

Cus

4 years ago
The partners at Les Films de Mon Oncle certainly never had a hand in the creation of my grandfathers oeuvre nor are they in anyway related to him. When Tati became bankrupt the Deschamps family chose to do nothing but glee at his downfall. It is quite deplorable that today they should be allowed to parasitically exploit both his abilities and failings whilst disturbingly distorting history. Deschamps came into ownership of four of Tati's movies after he purchased them from a terminally ill Sophie Tatischeff in the last year of her life to pay her debts (she'd lost a fortune with her recording studio, Son our Son) as she did not want to die with the shame of bankruptcy like her father. Deschamps absolutely did not inherit the Tatischeff estate as a rightful heir as he would like the world to think. Working closely with highly respected Princeton academic David Bellos who is credited with writing the most discerning biographical account of my grandfather's life we have been able to publicly document for the first time the true events that were Tati's War years..

Cus

4 years ago
"McDonald's claim to have "confidentially approached" Chomet automatically ceased to be true the moment that he published his letter".

It was Chomet who broke the confidentiality when,

"After Chomet became aware of the troubled story that lay beneath l'Illusionniste he informed the current caretakers of my grandfather's estate, Jerome Deschamps and Mikall Micheff at Les Films de Mon Oncle, who without consent published the most deplorable inaccurate account of my family in the biography Jacques Tati by Jean-Philippe Guerand".

Published in 1997, 3 years before McDonald letter.
http://www.amazon.fr/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?__mk_fr_FR=...

Cus

4 years ago
Of which David Bellos wrote the most stinging criticism of the biography here, http://www.nonfiction.fr/article-807-la_posterite... Describing the biography as "an attempt to hide the very life of Jacques Tati" whilst he Verified the importance of Herta Schiel in the life of Tati while also making it clear that Jerome Deschamp is not related in anyway to the Tatischeff family.

Cus

4 years ago
Anton your French wikipedia reference to Deschamps says that he is "petit cousin par alliance de Tati". What this means is that Descahmps mother was the half cousin of Tati's wife Micheline Winter. An utterly insignificant link of which no biological link exists between Deschamps and Jacques Tatischeff, or even Micheline Winter.

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
Anton...are you pieceing this jigsaw together yet the precise motives why the Tati 'estate' may not wish to have blood relatives both alive and well, and on their doorstep?

Therefore any reading of Helga in this piece severely upsets the applecart. Henceforth, throughout the publicity for this piece no room whatsoever has been allowed to accomodate her. You yourself argue for multiple readings with a potential for a myriad of fluctuating nuances accomodating each sister and more besides. Its telling, however, that the establishments behind L'Illusionniste, allow for none. Its Sophie, just Sophie. I wonder what the reason might be?

apex_of_the_curve

4 years ago
2007

Hulot

4 years ago
"It also felt very close to my relationship with my own daughter, who was five years old when we started the film and who is now 17"

just how long has this film been in production!!!!!?

Cus

4 years ago
A) Sophie give it to me (Chomet)personally, B) Sophie left it in her will to Chomet, C) Chomet purchased the rights from Deschamps is three very different accounts of how Chomet got hold of the script and stretch over(at least) a three year time frame.

Cus

4 years ago
oh yeah :)

Cus

4 years ago
Oh look yet another lie put out by Chomet, that originally omitted the dates added by Anton to make the reader think that Sophie was 13 in 1955.

"Tati wrote the script over quite a long period, three or four years [1955-9], and Sophie was 13 when he started working on it [1959-60]",

When the actual history is as follows

"It has been acknowledged that the script for l'Illusionniste was written as a personal letter to Tati's teenage daughter. Sophie his second child was not a teenager at the time of its writing, only his eldest daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne whom he had adversely neglected as an infant was. In 1955 Helga was thirteen years of age, Sophie had just turned nine. Consecutive versions of l'Illusionniste script exist dated from 1955 through to 1959".
http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/pages-for-twitter...

Cus

4 years ago
Anton if you are going to get pissy about mere days in your discussion about Helga's letter sent to Tati from Morocco then at least be consistent with your arguments, Sophie was not a teenager throughout the years, 1955-1959, that Tati was writing The Illusionist.

NSAB

4 years ago
Thanks for that it's kept me (if no one else) entertained for a couple of weeks. ( more than can be said for the actual film)

I've genuinelly enjoyed your arguements defending the indefencible.

Just remember don't look out of the window i morning, otherwise you might have nothing to do in the afternoon!

Aldorf

4 years ago
Less a bloody nose and more a succession of powerfull upper-body blows see Anton the Antipodean Flapper from Oz down on his knee's and out for the count;)

Eileen

3 years ago
As much as i enjoy Chomet’s films, i have to say that he is not short of arrogance. In the ‘special features’ section of the ‘Illusionist’ dvd, he vehemently slags off ‘Scottish Enterprise’ for not supporting him in his plan to establish his studio in Edinburgh. In fact, ‘Scottish Enterprise’ gave a thumbs-up to Chomet’s request and offered him ‘premises’ on the ‘outskirts’ of Edinburgh, but Chomet rejected the support, stating that he the studio must be located in the centre of Edinburgh...(continued on next post)

Eileen

3 years ago
......Furthermore, he goes on to slag the quality of students attending Scottish art schools, and blames ‘Scottish Enterprise’ for him losing out on funding for a previous film venture, which was eventually made in a London studio. Who does Chomet think he is? He has no right, artistic or otherwise, to expect his demands to be honoured from another country’s funding resources. He should be humbled by the offer from ‘Scottish Enterprise’. If i, as a foreigner, requested support from French funding agencies and snubbed ‘them’ because ‘they’ didn’t agree to a portion of my demands, ‘they’ would have my head on the chop. Chomet’s arrogance knows no bounds. Provence can keep him while he continues on his journey to becoming an ungracious, bitter old man.

Ghandiman

3 years ago
Sylvain Chomet loves Scotland and it's people?!
Did not last long, though: he hates them now and moved back to France (so Sylvain: a rare misanthrope, as anyone who knows him would confirm). This 'love' is just a pose for The Illusionist promotion. Very talented man but just lost his spark. The Illusionist does not have half of the ingenuity of The Triplets of Belleville.Too bad!

Buy Made from Us!

2 years ago
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