TIFF 2013: Sylvain Chomet’s ‘Attila Marcel’ a delight from beginning to end

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Attila Marcel
Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet
France, 2013

In 2003, Sylvain Chomet suddenly popped up on arthouse radars with his first animated feature The Triplets of Belville. Critics praised the film for its inventiveness, attention to detail, soundtrack, and just sheer delightful weirdness. Chomet’s next feature was 2010’s The Illusionist (not to be mistaken for the big twist magician caper starring Edward Norton), a dialogue-free animated film about a friendship between a washed-up magician and a young girl. Though The Illusionist is far more melancholy and sometimes outright sad than Triplets, the inventiveness, attention to detail, soundtrack and whimsy were still there. Chomet’s newest film Attila Marcel once again succeeds because it brings those same elements that worked so well in his previous two features, combines the different tones of those films, and then finally applies them to a new format for Chomet: live-action filmmaking.

Attila Marcel tells the story of Paul (Guillaume Gouix), a 33-year-old piano virtuoso who has been living with his overprotective aunts (Bernadette Lafont and Hélène Vincent) since his parents were killed under mysterious circumstances when Paul was just two years old. Having not uttered a single word since that tragic incident, Paul lives a lonely life, playing the piano mostly for the amusement of his aunts and their friends. When he accidently stumbles into the apartment of a kooky woman named Madame Proust (Anne Le Ny), the two begin a journey to delve into Paul’s memories and make sense of his relationship with his deceased parents.

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Having lost none of the charm and whimsy of his previous films, Chomet’s first live-action feature is another delightful effort from the beloved French director. Though Paul does not speak, this film is far more dialogue-heavy than the first two, and Chomet proves he has a keen sense for surreal comic dialogue. Chomet’s casting department have also done a wonderful job, as each of the film’s principle players (and indeed its supporting characters as well, no matter how small) fully commit to both the film’s comedic and its more heartbreaking moments. Gouix especially shines in a role that requires him to rely entirely on body language and facial expressions.

A delight from beginning to end, Attila Marcel proves that Chomet is not just adept at animated films and is surely once again going to establish him as one of France’s most prized directors working today.

– Laura Holtebrinck

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.

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