Director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist) invokes memories of Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati in his first live-action film, about a mute, sweet-natured man-child whose reawakened childhood memories unleash marvellous musical fantasies.
With The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist, French director Sylvain Chomet created animated films of unusual wit and delicacy, charming audiences with stories and characters that seemed to emerge from some gentler era. For Attila Marcel, his first live-action feature film, Chomet recreates that era with all the visual invention of his animated work.
Paul is a sweet man-child, raised — and smothered — by his two eccentric aunts in Paris since the death of his parents when he was a toddler. Now thirty-three, he still does not speak. (He does express himself through colourful suits that would challenge any Wes Anderson character in nerd chic.) Paul's aunts have only one dream for him: to win piano competitions. Although Paul practices dutifully, he remains unfulfilled until he submits to the interventions of his upstairs neighbour. Suitably named after the novelist, Madame Proust offers Paul a concoction that unlocks repressed memories from his childhood and awakens the most delightful of fantasies.
Guillaume Gouix plays Paul as an innocent lifted from a silent comedy, his face welcoming the strangest of sights with simple, open curiosity. And Chomet gives Paul much to witness. The rails of a staircase become a musical instrument. Ukuleles take on totemic force. A tango-dancing scene between Paul's parents shifts to wrestling, and back again.
Designing this live-action film with
the same grace he brought to his animation,
Chomet wraps Paul's adventure
in deadpan absurdity that draws comparisons
to Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati.
As with those directors, and with Wes
Anderson, Chomet's whimsy carries serious
intent. Attila Marcel is a sad comedy about
time passing, memories recalled, and the
ephemeral beauty of life.