Sylvain Chomet missed a really good animated film and made a disappointing first feature.
Director Sylvain Chomet, known for the bewitching The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and having directed the maybe lesser-known The Illusionist (2010) as well as a short in Paris, je t’aime (2006), developed a very poetical dark style symptomatic of the narration of his films. From his first short on, The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1997), Chomet’s animated features contain precious keys to story telling that unveil the power that only this medium bears: animation tweaks characters precisely to what their temper and characters are, their curves and moves are all subjected to the will of the auteur, enabling the fantastic exact depiction of the world he has created for them. Add these to strong narration lines, and you’ve got a fascinating universe to plunge yourself into. However, by leaving the animated world to create his first feature length movie, Sylvain Chomet left behind the captivating universe he crafted for the last decade, creating nothing but empty characters in an insipid world for Attila Marcel.
Attila Marcel follows Paul (Guillaume Gouix), a thirty-three-year-old pianist who, under his aunts’ pressure, aspires to win the young pianist contest. Mute since the age of two when he lost his parents for obscure reasons, Paul’s life revolves around his aunts and odd companions and the dance classes where he plays pianos whilst eating an insane amount of chouquettes – until he breaks into Madame Proust’s apartment. Madame Proust’s apartment is basically a live-in garden, whose vegetable and fruits make for unusual drug recipes. This is the point where the story takes off, because Paul saw that garden, he is drugged and sent out of the flat. Whilst this seems already out-of-place in the narration, the fact that Paul goes again the next day and gets drugged again to, this time, find his memory rather than forgetting it, is one of the many inconsistencies of the film.
The most clumsy character of the narration probably is Madame Proust herself. It surely should have been enough to call her as the famous eponymous French author, but the narration includes Paul eating madeleines during the first sequence at the flat and gives her the full responsibility to make Paul remember about the death of his parents, awkwardly underling the references to Marcel Proust’s work throughout the film. Characters tend to be superficial and whilst this is arguably not an issue in animated films in the sense that the animation adds to their characters already, using actors that aren’t malleable in the flesh asks for a deeper understanding of what or who they are. The aunts, for example, are just defined by their meanness and ambition for their nephew, and apart from matching jumpers, there’s nothing deeper to be found in them.
Aesthetically relying on the same feature as an animated film, rather than exploring new narration tools, Sylvain Chomet has created a feature that awkwardly stands between Michel Gondry and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s work, completely loosing his own signature. Shots are pretty but empty of his usual dark poetry, and the film just ends up being rather enjoyable at times, but mainly a forgettable piece of cinema.
Attila Marcel (2013), directed by Sylvain Chomet, is distributed in the UK by Metrodome, Certificate 12.