THE CHARMINGLY ACCIDENT-prone Monsieur Hulot would have wreaked all kinds of comical eccentricities on the island of Mull had he spent his famous holiday there. Sadly, the location probably never occurred to Jacques Tati, the French cinematic master who created him.
It has, however, been considered by Sylvain Chomet, the French animator who now lives in Scotland and who hopes to revive the legacy of his compatriot.
Chomet, whose Belleville Rendez-vous was an international hit, is working on L’Illusioniste (The Illusionist) using a script by Tati that was never made into a film. He is reading all he can about the comic genius, casually dubbed France’s answer to Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, but utterly distinct from both of them. "Since we have been here, everything has been moving forward very fast," says Chomet, who moved to Scotland from Canada earlier this year. "We didn’t imagine that after ten months we would be able to have a studio with all this progress." Chomet and his wife Sally hope to see the workforce of their Edinburgh studio rise from four to 50 next year as work on the Tati project begins in earnest and as another project - The Tale of Despereaux, a 3D film - takes off.
The Illusionist, an Anglo/French production headed up by Path (UK and France), will be a 2D (traditional pencil and paper animation) project with some 3D (computer generated) elements. The film’s action originally moved from London and Paris to Prague. Chomet’s version begins in the Hebrides and ends up in Edinburgh. A magician meets a pretty girl on Mull who has never left the island. She "believes he has real powers of magic and can get her anything she wants, including shoes and clothes. He works harder and harder, getting deeper and deeper into trouble in his effort not to disappoint her. The plot, as told, has a distinctly Chaplinesque flavour.
Animators and technicians laboured for five years over Belleville Rendez-vous, the story of a racing cyclist kidnapped by the Mafia and his indomitable grandmother’s effort to free him. Chomet anticipates a 2007 release for The Illusionist.
Edinburgh’s architecture is expected to feature prominently. "We are starting to develop the look," says Chomet. "The art director just goes outside with a camera. Edinburgh hasn’t changed since the late-1950s. It is quite interesting to do a film which is going to be in the city where you live."
Jacques Tati, born Jacques Tatischeff, found fame with Jour de Fete, the adventures of a postman in a sleepy French village. His most famous creation debuted in M Hulot’s Holiday (1954) and reappeared in Mon Oncle (1958), Playtime (1967) and Traffic (1971). Tati died in 1982.
"Tati wrote The Illusionist because he wanted to escape the character of M Hulot," says Chomet. "What I’m going to do in this film is start with a completely different character. But because the story is a bit like the history of M Hulot, he is going to turn in to M Hulot at the end of the film."