Sylvain Chomet is a French comic writer, animator, and film director who will turn 50 this November. He studied art in high school, and a few years after graduating he moved to London to work as an animator at the Richard Purdum studio. He also created many print comics, including Secrets of the Dragonfly. He started working on his first animated film in 1991 called The Old Lady and the Pigeons (it was completed by 1997). The short film won him a BAFTA and he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short. In this latest special Oscar edition of Animation Corner, I’ll be looking back at the two feature films Chomet has made: the Oscar-nominated 2003 film The Triplets of Belleville (which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary) and the Oscar-nominated 2010 film The Illusionist.
2003’s The Triplets of Belleville was Chomet’s first feature-length animated film. It centers on an elderly woman who goes on a journey to rescue her grandson, a Tour de France cyclist, who has been kidnapped by the French mafia and taken to the city of Belleville. Along the way, she is joined by the Triplets of Belleville, a trio of music hall singers from the 1930s. It features the voices of Michele Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, and Monica Viegas, but interestingly there is little dialogue (most of the story is told through song and pantomime). The film screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, and would later be highly praised by audiences and critics for its unique style of animation. The film would also go on to receive two Oscar nominations (for Best Original Song and Best Animated Feature).
Seven years later, Chomet returned with his second animated feature, 2010’s The Illusionist. It centers on a struggling French illusionist who visits an isolated community in Scotland and meets a young lady who believes that he is a real magician. Their subsequent adventure together would change their lives forever. It features the voices of Jean-Claude Donda and Eilidh Rankin (like Chomet’s previous film, there is very little dialogue). This film was based on an unproduced script that Jacques Tati had written in 1956 as a personal letter to his estranged daughter (who was also his oldest). Tati had originally conceived it as a journey of love and discovery that takes two characters across western Europe to Prague (Chomet relocated it to Scotland in the late 1950s). Chomet stated that Tati had wanted to move from purely visual comedy and try a deeper, emotional story, and that the script was about a relationship between a father and a daughter. The film premiered at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival after a few delays, and the film would go on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.