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Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)

Belleville Rendezvous, The Triplets of Belleville, Les Triplettes de Belleville

Visual ingenuity, wry humour, and French self-parody

Starring:

Jean-Claude Donda

Michel Robin

Michèle Charcheteux

Monica Viegas

Directed by:

Sylvain Chomet

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 81 minutes

UK Certificate: 12A

Country: France

A club-footed grandmother named Souza, a batty trio of vaudeville chanteuses known as 'Les triplettes de Belleville', and a train-hating dog called Bruno are the unlikely heroes of 'Belleville Rendez-vous', Sylvain Chomet's surreal feature-length cartoon. In their bid to rescue Souza's grandson Champion from the clutches of a cyclist-abducting racket, they must stand up not only to ruthless gangsters, but also to the modern world itself.

'Belleville Rendez-vous' is dominated by the contrast between the old values of pre-war France and the new values of post-war Americanisation, with all the highrise, obesity, slums and organised crime that it brings. Belleville is a parody of an American metropolis, full of fat citizens who live on hamburgers, and even with a Statue of Liberty (grasping a hamburger in one hand), whereas Grandma Souza and the elderly Triplettes are the exaggerated embodiment of older Gallic ways, with a diet consisting entirely of elaborate dishes made from parts of frogs (including tadpole popcorn). 'Belleville Rendez-vous' presents this clash of cultures with gentle (if dark) satire, and is greatly influenced by the similarly dialogue-free comic films of Jacques Tati, whose combination of nostalgic conservatism and clownish absurdity has been perfectly captured by Chomain.

Everyone likes a story where it is the little person, or the underdog, who wins out – and 'Belleville Rendez-vous' has both. Whether they are pursuing an ocean-liner in a paddle-boat, or walking the streets beneath Belleville's towering skyscrapers, diminutive Souza and her dog always look as though they are about to be swallowed up by the vast impersonality of the world around them. Yet in the end, nothing can stand in the way of this dauntless, resourceful woman – especially not an army of goons in American zoot suits.

It is only appropriate that a film so concerned with interactions between the old and the new should place 2-D hand-drawn characters in computer-generated 3-D backgrounds, but this also gives 'Belleville Rendez-vous' a unique visual style, somehow all at once naïve and sophisticated, which is worlds away from either Disney or Japanese manga-style animé.

Although it is mostly set in a vast, oppressive and dehumanising city, the rebellious charm of 'Belleville Rendez-vous' restores faith in the power of human inventiveness, and will leave you feeling buoyant. Just be sure to stay until the last credit has rolled, so that you don't miss the final pay-off.

It's Got: Josephine Baker dancing to the accompaniment of Django Reinhardt (until a gang of mischievous monkeys steals her banana skirt); a dog having nightmares about train travel; an old woman using a grenade to catch frogs; a cabaret piece using a fridge, newspaper, vacuum cleaner and bicycle wheel as nstruments; a gravity-defying chase; and one last comic pay-off after the final credit has rolled.

It Needs: To be seen by parents as much as by their children.

Alternatives:

Jour de Fête, Mon Oncle, Monsieur Hulots Holiday, Playtime

Summary

Visual ingenuity, wry humour, and French self-parody add up to a strange and touching experience. Like no other cartoon you will have ever seen.

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