Friday, May 28, 2010

It's a shame about Tati...

Recently I wrote a piece celebrating the release of what I had hoped would be French filmmaker Jacques Tati's swan song.  Now, my initial elation for the release of "The Illusionist", Sylvain Chomet's adaptation of Tati's original screenplay, has been clouded by confusion and disappointment.  To explain...

It appears as though Tati's grandson, Richard Tatischeff Schiel McDonald, has written a letter to Roger Ebert stating that "The Illusionist" "greatly undermines both the artistry of my grandfather's original script whilst shamefully ignoring the deeply troubled personal story that lies at its heart.".  The personal story McDonald speaks of is Tati's abandonment of his illegitimate first born daughter. 

I am an unabashed fan of Tati's work.  His films make me smile like few can.  I am also of a mind that art and the artist can exist in their own context.  All of this leaves me with an interesting conundrum:  What do I do with this information?  Should I simply ignore it?  Can I? 

It appears as though the heart of McDonald's argument is that Tati had written the film's script as a open letter to Helga Marie-Jeanne, the daughter he had abandoned.  He says it stands as Tati's only acknowledgement of her.  His claims that Sylvain Chomet and Pathe films deliberately eschewed this information for a more sentimental, decidedly pro-Tati approach is disheartening for a myriad of reasons.  Not the least of which being that that's exactly what I had hoped the film would be.

I wanted sentimental.  I wanted closure, of sorts.  But it appears as though closure is exactly what this film is denying Tati's family.  And so I am torn.  Do I view "The Illusionist" as a fan watching one of his idols walk off into the sunset?  Or as a disillusioned film critic, watching a man's legacy dissolve before me?

I believe I will have to let the film speak for itself.  After all, I cannot force myself to view it one way or another.  I must admit that there is a large part of me that wishes I had never learned anything about Tati's shame.  But perhaps I can still seperate art and the artist and simply view the film as the closure of a fine career, if not the atonement he had intended it to be.


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