Sylvain Chomet, the director of Attila Marcel is better known for his animated movie, The Triplets of Belleville, of which I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing. I did enjoy L’Illusioniste (The Illusionist) when I saw it as part of the 2011 Adelaide Film Festival line-up. There’s a sense of nostalgia and melancholy when I watched L’Illusioniste which resonated well with me.
Attila Marcel has that underlying theme of melancholy as well – Paul (Guillaume Gouix) is a talented pianist who lives with two of his aunts. He believes that his parents passed away when he was two but he doesn’t have any memory of them at all. He’s haunted by nightmares about his dad whilst choosing to focus his longing towards his mum. He hasn’t spoken a word since two – and rumour has it that he was there when his parents died. One day, Paul comes across his neighbour, Madame Proust (Anne Le Ny) who manages to awake Paul’s memory with her herb teas – and allows him to find out what actually happened.
The movie is beautifully directed in vibrant colours – almost a direct translation from an animated movie. Paul’s two aunts – played by Bernadette Lafont and Hélène Vincent – also add to the enjoyment of the movie by providing some humour and tension. What is present throughout the movie is the palpable sensation of melancholy and longing – we empathise with Paul and also want to know what actually happened to his parents. Guillaume Gouix portrays the tormented soul beautifully – which is quite an achievement as his character only utters minimal words throughout the movie. He also plays Paul’s dad, which goes by ‘Attila Marcel’ as his moniker in the wrestling arena.
The movie’s surrealism,the stylised nostalgia, the beautiful soundtrack (especially when Paul’s piano is combined with the erhu music played by another character (I’m deliberately vague here so I don’t spoil the storyline), as well as the undercurrent of melancholy and joy make Attila Marcel shine!