Thursday, 13 January 2011

Les Triplettes de Belleville / The Triplets of Belleville / Belleville Rendez-vous

Les Triplettes de Belleville, somewhat confusingly retitled Belleville Rendezvous here in the UK after the song that opens the film, is a 2003 animated co-production between France, Belgium, Canada and the UK, but French-written, French-directed and overall very, very French indeed. One of the handful of arthouse animations to make an impact on the mainstream, along with the likes of Persepolis, it has become something of an animated classic.

The story is simple, if surreal. A young boy (who in his childhood looks incredibly like a caricature of Peep Show's David Mitchell) is raised by his grandmother to participate in the Tour de France. However, when his grandmother's vehicle for coaching him is sabotaged, he is one of the cyclists to fail a mountain stage, dismounting and getting into the van to be carried the rest of the way. However, this is not his grandmother's van, and he is whisked off to the mysterious Big Apple-like city of Belleville. Only his grandmother and three mysterious triplets can save him from enslavement and eventual death at the hands of the French mafia.

The film is, as I said, extremely French. The plot is very French. The way the film starts with a miserable life so surreal as to be hilarious is extremely French (the idyllic little home gets an elevated railway bridge built so close to it that it actually forces the building to lean out of its path). The character design is incredibly French, every character a newspaper caricature brought to life - each and every design is lovingly playful and grotesque, from the adorable little old lady to the funny little mafia busybody who seems to be at least half mouse. And that merciless and absurd ending is extremely French, too. There are even live-action clips of the Hulot films to show a direct influence.

And leave it to the French to make something ugly, absurd and at times disgusting (the Triplets for some reason seem to have a diet consisting entirely of frogs and tadpoles) and yet make it full of heart and affection. It may be hard to care for the wiry, sharp-nosed, silent grandson apparently named 'Champion'(there is too little dialogue for names to actually be established, other than that of Bruno the dog), but it would be very difficult not to care about determined little Mrs. Souza (the grandmother and protagonist), and one would have to be cold-hearted indeed to wish her to fail.

Because of the small, private scale of the story, the anti-epic flavour, I can't see many considering this their favourite film or best animation of all time - but equally, there can be very few who would not smile through it, and enjoy the quirkiness, the eccentricity, the sheer delight in the medium. And whatever you think of the art style, it cannot be denied that the animation on show here is amongst the most technically beautiful ever seen.

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