Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Triplets of Belleville


And don't miss this music video inspired by the theme song Rendezvous

This is my first attempt at a review of a film so bear with me.

In this mostly traditional animation (light on computer generated graphics) by Sylvain Chomeet not only the music is jazzy but the visual and emotional aspects as well. The dialog is sparse with the story being carried by the music and images and action sometimes verging on mime. So this Sony Classics French film can be completely comprehended without subtitles for those of us who are not French endowed.

It is an hallucination with the ambiance of a Dickens novel featuring grotesquely elongated or bulbous figures fumbling and bumbling their way a la Keystone Cops in a sepia and grey watercolor setting. It is humorous and horrifying by turns. The humor often dark and dismaying even as it solicits giggles, grins and guffaws.

Belleville is a jazzy and surrealistic collage of post WWII Paris, Montreal and New York. The Triplets are somewhat addled elderly 1930s era cabaret singers who now perform musical improve with found instruments such as a newspaper, a fridge, and a canister vacuum cleaner. Their diet consists of frogs harvested from a swamp with dynamite. But these quirky sisters are just supporting cast who collude with the grandmother of a Tour de France cyclist who was kidnapped by mobsters during the race.

It took me quite some time to realize that it was stumpy little club-footed, spectacled, granny who was the protagonist and not Champion, the grandson whom she took in when he was orphaned as a small tot. He was persistently morose and she indefatigable in her attempts to lure him back to a joie de vive. The gift of a puppy brought her momentary satisfaction when it garnered a brief smile that reached his eyes but it wasn't long before he returned to his brooding though now with his furry companion and co-brooder, Bruno, at his side. In fact, even Bruno has more depth and personality than the grandson which is endearingly displayed as he plays sidekick to Grandma on the search for Champion.

What finally reached Champion was cycling. She discovered his interest after finding a scrapbook full of clippings of bicycles and cyclists and races under his mattress. So she got him a tricycle and once he graduated to a bicycle she became his coach, relentless in her efforts to prepare him for professional racing.

After discovering his abandoned bike on the Tour's roadside she solicited the help of Bruno who tracked him to the dock from which a huge steamer was pulling away. Grandma and Bruno follow in a pedal boat all the way to the fantastical city of Belleville somewhere in North America. It was about the time she arrived in Belleville that I finally realized that she was the protagonists in this story.

As she settles in with Bruno by her campfire that first night ashore she begins tapping out a tune on the spokes of a bicycle wheel and this lures the triplets to her side. After a song and dance routine the three weird sisters take in the stodgy grandma.

And that's as far as I can go in relating the plot without giving unforgivable spoilers for anyone who's not seen this phantasmagorical cartoon for grown-ups. That was probably less than the first third of the 80 some minutes of this eye-popping carnival ride of a film. The rest is all about the developing relationship between grandma and the triplets and the search for Champion.

There is a lot of silly slapstick stuff going on at the margins of the scenes or off stage as far as Grandma's story is concerned. Visual puns abound as does social commentary--most prominently the gluttonous consumerism of the North Americans. There is so much visual information in every scene that it was impossible to take it all in with a single viewing so I'm hoping to have a chance to watch it again before I send it back to the library. (Though the fact that I have several movies and documentaries and a full season of Boston Legal out of the library make that a challenge.)

The rich and the powerful and the stylish are always portrayed as having rusty consciences and thus undeserving of respect though they obviously believe that respect is one of their inalienable rights. In contrast the rustic, the dorky, the eccentric, the downtrodden have the moral integrity, the gumption, the perseverance, the wit and wisdom. And with any concern about respect completely off their radar, replaced by compassion they have nurtured within themselves a sense of connection with others and life itself that is the source of the content.

Let me close by saying that I did not even consider picking up my crochet while watching this as it was impossible to tear my eyes from the screen even for the split seconds I need to position the hook for the next stitch.


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