The Triplets of Belleville

Sunday, April 11, 2010 12:17 PM By Simon

Director: Sylvain Chomet
Score: Benoît Charest
Synopsis: Champion, a cyclist, gets kidnapped during the Tour de France. His grandmother/trainer Souza and their fat, loyal dog Bruno follow the kidnappers to the city of Belleville, where they get help from the eponymous Triplets.

I am not one for Canadian productions. Could it be my hatred for Canada's neutralness? Could it be that I am, as an American, offended by such peace-keeping folks? Could it be that Canadian's, with their free health care and fair treatment of all it's citizens, gets my US panties in a twist? Absolutely.

Aside. I have never been much for animated films as of late...Pixar has dominated the computer-animated field, and all traditionally drawn movies have slunk into corners, afraid that their release will coincide with a CG-spectacle of questionable quality, and decide not to bother with anything other than a mumble in Europeon cinemas. Therefore, I have not seen any of Chomet's previous work. But, I think, I will have to now.

This movie is absolutely delightful. That is such a stupid phrase, but it is. The animation, first, is great, a warped, almost-Disney traditional thing that ended up too surreal for the logo. In fact, there are several riffs on Disney within the film, including a Mickey-shaped turd in an unflushed toilet. So, there's that.

The pictures, part-watercolor, part-charcoal, part-sketched, could all be hung in a gallery and sold 100k a pop, they're so beautiful. From the twisted animation of the Triplets, old music hall singers from the 30s who we are introduced too in an 'archival' clip (also animated, with a more sketched-in background, black-and-white), tall, bent-over, wrinkly, but bouncy and jovial, to Champion, the kidnapped grandson, who in his adult years in tall, lanky but for his legs, which are almost a grotesque parody of cyclists muscled calfs, to Souza, a tiny ball of determination, with ticks you never notice (pushing up her glasses, wearing one block-sized shoe, etc.). You can see their characters from their body language, I guess something easier to pull off with animation, where the bodies are all a conscious decision, rather than live-action, when actors can sometimes forget that their character always twitches his ear, something like that.

Animation is also surreal, such as the henchmen who kidnap Champion, extremely square-shouldered Men in Black who morph into Siamese twins if they stand too close to each other.

There is almost no dialogue, but for some incidental news broadcasts in French, brief conversations maybe twice in the whole thing. Everything is told through pantomime and song (the theme, "Belleville Rendez-vous", is sung twice), so little there isn't any subtitles for what there is.

The film itself, the fairly simple plot that manages to be both funny, exciting, and melancholy. I say melancholy because, to me, the opening set the mood. After the "Belleville Rendez-vous" sequence, we are introduced to Souza and Champion as a young boy. Souza notices how sad and lonely he is, and she tries relentlessly to make him feel better. She presents him with Bruno, which cheers him up a bit, but soon he sinks back. Finally, she notices a book he keeps of cyclists pictures and articles, and gets him a tricycle. There, he finds it and is relentlessly overjoyed.

Funny, due to both the action onscreen--the Triplets' three-course meals of frogs that are still kicking, Bruno's dreams, Souza's constant blowing of a whistle to motivate not just her grandson when he races, but a mechanic fixing their flat tire, shit like that--and surrounding people. There are constant caricatures of French waiters, American tourists, mafia henchmen, all that. Visually compelling, is what I'm saying.

The score is very French.

It's never boring. It does earn it's PG-13 rating, that is, the "images involving sensuality, violence, and crude humor" thing. We got hookers in the background, one caricature of dancer/singer Josephine Baker, who was known for performing topless, lots of smoking (which, frankly, I'm surprised the MPAA didn't put up in the label, as they do for everything else), one scene involving someone getting shot, shit like that.

(so, yes, I'm putting up a lot of pictures. But they're so...pretty)

Overall, a funny, visually stunning, strange thing, retro and sweet and one of the best animated films I've ever seen.


Robert said...

I love this movie and your review hits everything that makes it great. Especially the score, the movie would be nothing without it! My only complaint is that it ends far too soon.

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