The Triplets of Belleville (12a)

Dec 01, 2004
Cranbrook Film Society

Sylvain Chomet’s delightful animated feature is touching, hilarious and so French you can taste it! It playfully alludes to Jacques Tati and is influenced by Betty Boop and 101 Dalmatians; and is one of the most interestingly original films made in recent years.

A young orphan boy, Champion, loves to watch TV, especially broadcasts by a red-hot jazz singing trio, The Triplets of Belleville, who belt out their toe-tapping numbers in the irresistible style of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club de France. Champion grows up to be a Tour de France racer but gets kidnapped en route by sinister mafia types. His grandmother and his fat, lazy dog Bruno come to his rescue enlisting the help of the Triplets themselves, now elderly ladies.

The film gets off to a great start with a comic tribute to Hollywood – a crowd outside a theatre in the manner of Singin’ in the Rain watching a trio of vast women, the Belleville Triplets, explode from limousines too small to contain them, followed by a show in which they perform to pastiche 1930s jazz.

The Triplets of Belleville, the direct English translation of the French title, took the best part of five years to assemble, and the animation mixes computer-generated images with traditional hand-drawn ones.

Although there is virtually no dialogue, the film is by no means silent. In fact, sound is a critical element of the film, whether it is an approaching train, croaking frogs, or a dog barking; there is just no meaningful dialogue. The jazz that permeates the soundtrack is a critical element.

It pokes fun at stereotypes of both the French, who are shown to subsist solely on a diet of frogs and North Americans who are depicted as overweight gluttons.

Belleville is a bizarre marriage of New York and Quebec, complete with a Rubenesque Statue of Liberty, and Paris is depicted as having grown up and swallowed its suburbs. The overall story can be seen as an allegory of how Hollywood steals the best and brightest talents of Europe and sucks them dry.

Whether or not this is true and the subject could spark a long debate, it is certainly a European viewpoint which Chomet brings to the fore here.

Belleville Rendez-Vous is adept at presenting quirky little details, such as Bruno’s fetish with trains and some of the Triplet’s unique culinary talents, like the frog-sicle. The generally unconventional approach makes it difficult to determine where it is going or how it will end. It contains its share of comedic elements and the overall tone is light, but there is something almost mournful lurking beneath the surface.

The film can probably be best described as a true art-house animated motion picture – a rare treat for us all.

There are comparisons to be made with Nick Parks’s films featuring Wallace and Gromit, the drawings of Gerald Hoffnung and the beguiling New Yorker cartoons by George Booth about eccentric lower-class Americans living in happy squalor with weird cats and dogs.

For members with an adventurous cinematic appetite, a production that makes Miyazaki appear mainstream has to be worth a look.

Sylvain Chomet | France | 2003 | 80 minutes | 12a