A couple of weeks ago, the San Francisco Alliance Française screened The Illusionist, one of Sylvain Chomet’s two highly acclaimed animated films, the other being The Triplets of Belleville. Featured in this week’s movie night is Chomet’s first live-action film, Attila Marcel, and it sounds as though a keen sense of humor is needed for maximum enjoyment!
The Hollywood Reporter describes Attila Marcel as a film “about memories that beautifully evokes films and songs from the past” in which Chomet “effortlessly transitions from the animated wonders” of his two previous films “to the live-action marvel that is Attila Marcel”.
Variety magazine refers to the film as “full of wry humanism, plentiful musical interludes, and production design that’s just this side of phantasmagoric”, whilst cautioning that “The whimsical-averse are advised to steer far clear ….”. The Financial Times goes one stage further with its assertion that “A small card should be held up at the start of Attila Marcel: Warning: contains whimsy”.
The central character in the film is a young pianist named Paul – played by Guillaume Gouix – who, as a toddler, witnessed the death of his parents. This event so traumatized him that he has uttered not a word since. At the age of 33, he is still mute, and still repressing any feelings he might have, communicating solely through his large, sad eyes, and his body language. His only hint of self-expression comes from the colorful, two-button suits which he wears. The film takes its title from the ‘stage’ name of Paul’s father, a hippie-type professional wrestler who called himself Attila Marcel – also played by Gouix.
Paul lives with two very eccentric aunts – played by Hélène Vincent and Bernadette Lafont – who dress almost identically, and for whom he plays at their dance classes. With the best of intentions, these two aunts have nevertheless completely smothered him all his life, whilst encouraging him to enter piano competitions year after year. A dutiful young man, Paul practises religiously, but achieves nothing until he strikes up a friendship with a rather extraordinary neighbor, Madame Proust – played by Anne Le Ny. She’s an aging, eco-style Buddhist who plays the ukelele, and has a vegetable patch growing in her apartment. She plies him with a weekly brew of asparagus tea and Madeleines to bring his repressed memories to the surface of his mind through a series of delightful fantasies.
In an interview for Walk This Way director Chomet explains why he moved from animation to live-action, talks about the characters of Paul and Madame Proust and about the role of music in the film.
At the 2014 Beijing International Film Festival, Guillaume Gouix won the Tiantian Award for Best Actor, and at the Newport Beach Film Festival in the same year, Editor Simon Jacquet won Honors for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking.
A Eurowide Film and Pathé Production, Attila Marcel screens in French, with English subtitles, at the Alliance Française, 1345 Bush Street, on Tuesday, August 23, at 7.00 pm. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is suggested.