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Animation

‘The Triplets of Belleville’ aka ‘Les triplettes de Belleville’ (Blu-ray review)

Sony

When asked to review the 2003 Academy Award nominated French animated film The Triplets of Belleville I jumped at the chance. I feel that this is a film that many have overlooked in recent years as it hasn’t been streamed in a long while, as far as I remember. It is a shame because it is such a brilliant and visually gorgeous film.

The Triplets of Belleville starts off as a black and white early sound film homage to the early musicals of the 1930’s and 40’s. Lovely caricature tributes to Fred Astaire, Josephine Baker, and Glen Gould and many others of the time period. They are followed by a trio of ladies performing jazz, Les Triplettes de Belleville. The entire sequence is over exaggerated and stunningly hand animated.

The story then fast forwards to tell the seemingly straightforward story of Champion, an orphaned boy who is raised by his grandmother, Madame Souza.

Champion is first given a hound dog puppy they name Bruno. Bruno is the true star of this film by the way (You will understand when to watch it. I adore him so much). However, it is when a young Champion is gifted a tricycle by his grandma his obsession with cycling is born. His Grandma seeing greatness and perseverance in young Champion begins the long task of training him toward his ultimate goal.

Champion aspires to win the Tour de France. We see through a series of montages Champion’s growth and development both as an adult but also as a cyclist. We also see the development of the Paris countryside as progress and civilization advance.

After over a decade of training Champion competes in the Tour de France.

During a particularly arduous leg of the tour Champion and two other competitors are seemingly kidnapped and taken to Belleville, the seaport city that is the heart of crime and corruption in France. Why were they taken? How will Madame Souza and her trusty hound, Bruno, find him again? Who the heck do the Triplets of Belleville tie into all this? They are the titular characters of the film after all!

Writer and director Sylvain Chomet has created something extremely unique and extraordinary here with Triplets. The whole movie is a love letter to the silent film genre. It being such a visual medium, this film becomes hyper reliant on the viewer actually watching the movie. Much like the silent films it is an homage to, The Triplets of Belleville is mostly pantomime. Little to no dialogue is present throughout the film. By using pantomime and gestural movement with the characters the film does not rely at all on dialogue and when it happens it is almost incidental to the plot. This makes the animation of the film so important and integral to the understanding and following of the film as a whole. I absolutely love this style of filmmaking whether it be live action or animated.

In fact, eagle-eyed viewers will notice nods to Charlie Chaplin on the wall of the triplets’ apartment. There is also a poster for Jacques Tati’s film Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr. Hulot’s Holiday 1953) and the Triplets are watching Tati’s 1949 first feature film Jour de Fete. Tati Made a career paying homage to silent movie stars Like Chaplin and Keaton in all his films. In fact Sylvain would go on to direct the animated feature L’Illusionniste in 2010 based on an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati. The main character is an animated likeness of Tati himself.

I don’t want to call The Triplets of Belleville a surreal film because that has connotations of it’s own and conjures up visions of Dali and Bunuel or Lynch and Jordorowsky. This is more fantastical but grounded in reality. The hyper exaggeration and overly hyperbolized movements are done with care to emphasize the action as there are little to no words throughout the film to help move the plot along. Think like if you were to animate an early Tim Burton film or Terry Gilliam movie. It is like the whole film is shot on a wide angle lens. The guttural sounds and noises from the characters are just there to help convey emotions. The animation style is such a beautifully unique and refreshing style.

Extras include a Making Of featurette, select scenes with commentary, interview, music video, and trailers.

If you haven’t seen Triplets, then I implore you to treat yourself to a visual smorgasbord of fun and wondrous sights, sounds and brilliant music. The older aged Triplets’ almost experimental Jazz using found objects is worth the viewing alone.

 

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