Plot: The titular magician's getting old, and with the emerging popularity of rock 'n' roll musicians, so is his act involving a squirrely rabbit and various objects stuffed up his sleeve. He travels to Scotland where he befriends a young maid named Alice. She travels with him to England where he struggles with his art and uses his meager funds to buy her shoes and dresses.
Ventriloquist, by the way, is a "belly talker" as ventri means belly and loqu means talk. Latin roots. Engastrimyth is from the Greek and means "stomach talker." I figured you'd find that interesting.
I love Tati, I love French whimsy, I loved Chomet's The Triplets of Belleville, and I was pretty sure I would love this movie. I might not be right about a lot of things, but I was about that. There's a wonderful texture to Chomet's 2D animation. A scene near the end with a shadow makes me tear up just thinking about it, but there are all kinds of tiny details that I just loved in this--the radiance of a jukebox, shadows over golden grasslands, a twist of a coat in front of a mirror, window reflections, the clown nose of the downtrodden. The style and the settings make me nostalgic, and I'm not even sure why. I've never been to Scotland, France, or England. But there's just something about the way the places and backgrounds are drawn. I loved the way this film looked. And like Triplets, I love the way Chomet has his characters move. Again, he exaggerates the grotesqueness of human beings, putting the needle on the old quirk-meter well into red. The hup-hup-hupping acrobats. The melancholy clown (a scene where he listens to calliope music alone in his room is just beautiful). The little fellows who run the hotel. The ventriloquist and his dummy (loved that first appearance of the dummy!). The way the rock band sashays off the stage. They all interact in a nearly dialogue-free little world because words just aren't that necessary. All you need to do is watch a handful of silent films to find that out. This has that silent film funk but with a slightly more complex range of human emotions. Inferences need to be made, and there's definitely some wiggle room here, allowing for a variety of hunches about what's going on with these characters. I'm definitely the type of movie watcher who's moved more by imagery than words, and it's great how Chomet tells so much story without having to explain things with any superfluous language. And then you've got the Tati influence. It's Tati's story, personal and heartbreaking, and this medium is perfect for capturing the Hulot mannerisms, the Tati-type sight gags, and the overall flavor. Chomet does capture Tati's movements very well, from the way he chases after his rabbit to his careful maneuvering over an extension cord. It felt good seeing Tati again even if it was just an animated version of him. Maybe that's where the feelings of nostalgia come from. This might have a little more sentimentality than Tati's live action films, but it's that sentimentality of the aforementioned silents and therefore feels very comfortable to me. Comfortable is a good word for this maybe. The French have this way of making movies that you inhale instead of just watch. They're movies that are like old shoes, and this is a real old shoe of a movie, one that feels like it's just always been there, more beautiful because of its dust and scratches and the fact that it smells just like my old foot.