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TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, THE (Triplettes de Belleville, Les) (director/writer: Sylvain Chomet; animation direction, special effects and compositing design, Pieter Van Houte; editor: Chantal Colibert Brunner; music: Benoit Charest; cast: with the voices of: Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin and Monica Viegas (characters) and M, Béatrice Bonifassi and Charles Prevost Linton (songs); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Didier Brunner/Paul Cadieux; Sony Pictures Classics; 2002-France/Canada/Belgium-no dialogue)
“Too far-fetched for me to dive into a genre I have not yet acquired a taste for.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Triplets of Belleville is set in the 1960s and is the first feature film by the Frenchman Sylvain Chomet, who was born in 1963. Let me first confess that I don’t particularly care for the medium of animation films, even those made for adults that pretend to be profoundly intellectual, though there was Linklater’s 2001 Waking Life that grabbed my attention more for its philosophizing playfulness than its animated features. I only saw this film because so many noteworthy critics fell in love with it, which led me to think that I’d be missing out on something splendid by not seeing it. But my viewing experience was not a particularly enjoyable one, though I seemed to like the film better in the confines of my home when musing on an odd image here and there rather than in the theater where I felt trapped into watching such a jumbled and meaningless story–no less one that was without dialogue. Chomet’s film was clearly influenced by the mime comedy antics of such noted entertainers as Jacques Tati and Charlie Chaplin, and was told in a bizarre old-fashioned 2-D animation format.

On reflection, even though I don’t know what it all means (nor do I really care at this point), it was still somewhat amusing to see an animated Josephine Baker do an exotic jungle dance while juggling bananas on her g-string and have Fred Astaire while hoofing get swallowed up by one of his tap shoes. I was charmed by the dog Bruno who during the course of the animation grows old, overweight and awkwardly pursues his passion of chasing moving trains. Bruno has done this ever since a toy train did damage to his tail as a puppy, when he left the tail on the tracks. Bruno dreams in black and white and ignites all the action sequences.

For me, the movie was like tripping on acid without taking the psychedelic tab, as it seemed I couldn’t keep focused on the story even though I was as straight as an arrow and making an effort to get with the program. Instead my mind kept drifting and I was sort of making my own movie in my head. It was sort of like going to one of those John Cage concerts where there’s only silence and the concert goer must supply his or her own music.

There is a plot to this absurdity and it goes something like this: The tiny Portuguese round-faced elderly woman with a club-foot, Madame Souza, dotes over her adopted orphaned, large-sized, gawky, large-beaked grandson Champion, who is a cyclist with oversized leg muscles and dreams of racing in the Tour de France. When Champion enters that race he is kidnapped by the French mafia and is taken across the ocean to the city of Belleville (some kind of dream-like place that is a combo of Manhattan, Montreal, Paris and fantasy land), where Madame de Souza and Champion’s dog, Bruno, set out in pursuit. Belleville is a land of obese hamburger eaters, somewhat like America. There’s a weird journey granny takes to get to Belleville in some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption, but she gets there despite some hardships along the way and hooks up with a trio of eccentric aged vaudeville singers who subsist on the French delicacy of frogs (the triplets look somewhat like a spunkier version of the Andrew Sisters singing jazz and who gallantly come to granny’s aid). Granny who will do anything to protect her beloved grandson, eventually trips up those mafia kidnappers and sends them on their way to another world.

It’s an art-house movie. One that is stunningly unique, obsessive, silly, childish in an adult way and cuddly without being warm. It’s somehow too far-fetched for me to dive into a genre I have not yet acquired a taste for. Though it’s undoubtedly clever and well-constructed and wildly imaginative, and certainly might appeal to those in the audience who relish such an unconventional and difficult to label work. Yet, I somehow felt left out of this party and have to take a pass on the film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”