Comfortable and Furious

Les Triplettes de Belleville

It was bad enough being denied The Sound Of Music until the New Year, but to have to endure hour after hour of progressively worse Xmas viewing was beginning to take its toll. I was feeling like death from heavy indulgence on Christmas day so I couldn’t even drink anything to numb the pain. The same old Christmas specials trotted out and the only one of them worth watching, The Office (check BBC America), clashed with McQueen and The Boys in The Great Escape. Then totally out of left field popped up The Belleville Rendezvous [Ed Note: The film is titled “Les Triplettes de Belleville” outside of the UK.] I’d heard about it via the Tartan mailing list (who distribute tons of great shit over here by directors such as Miike Takashi, Pedro Almodovar, Gaspar Noe and Ingmar Bergman) and so seized salvation with both hands.

Well who’d have thought it? Christmas viewing saved by an overweight French animated mutt!

The Belleville Rendezvous is basically a bizarre comedy about this guy who is kidnapped by the French Mafia while competing in the Tour De France and the efforts of his grandmother and dog to rescue him from America. Even if the plot wasn’t interesting (which it is), the animation itself is fantastic. The whole style is vastly removed from Shrek, Nemo or any of these modern big budget CGI fests, and is mainly done in traditional 2D animation with only minimal CGI input. Whereas Shrek et al seem to be trying to be as realistic as possible, Belleville Rendezvous bucks the trend and goes totally the other way. The whole world in which it is set is vastly exaggerated. 300-foot-high ocean liners, cyclists with huge calf muscles and elongated gangster mobiles.

The portrayal of Americans as enormous lard-asses sporting “I Luv Big” T-Shirts had some reviewers accusing the film of being anti-American and pro-French, but the French characters in America (the Belleville triplets) are portrayed as a race of people who only eat frogs and tadpoles and thus are made fun of the same as any of the other elements in the film.

The attention to detail is amazing, like when Granny’s van-driving friend lights up a cigarette and he rolls it around his mouth or when the dog jumps up onto the bed and sticks his arse in grandma’s face while he’s finding a comfortable spot. There are cameo appearances by/homages to General De Gaulle and we also see Django Reinhardt playing his guitar with two fingers then switching to his toes when he wants to draw from his cigarette. Scenes flow effortlessly from one to another with elements from one morphing into elements of the next. All of this makes you hardly notice that there is very little dialogue in this at all. Granny does most of her communicating with a whistle for example, and obviously dogs can’t talk.

There are some strange but captivating musical elements courtesy of the Belleville Triplets, who play a fridge, a hoover and a newspaper. They are joined by Granny on a bicycle wheel, which against all odds, really works. Lots of other 40s jazz numbers litter proceedings so it’s not totally surreal.

Originality is pretty hard to come by in this day and age, but Belleville manages to surprise at every turn, not particularly in the plot (I mean you know they’re going to rescue him), but in how it’s facilitated. Take the two chase scenes for example, one is between a pedalo and a cruise liner and the other is between a fleet of mafia cars and what can only be described as a bicycle-powered-gambling-machine/cinema. Both work perfectly (particularly the incredible Pedalo one), and how Granny disposes of the Big Mafia Boss is nothing short of brilliant. There’s a great contrast between the comedy and many of the sinister and downright cruel aspects of this film. The Mafia hoods are pretty creepy and you feel pretty sorry for the poor hound at times, as he is pretty much ignored until his services are needed.

t’s no surprise that The Belleville Rendezvous has picked up a number of awards including a Best Foreign Language Film award (Boston) despite being “only” a cartoon, and has been tipped for an Academy Award. Unfortunately for Belleville Rendezvous, even though it is a far superior film, it will inevitably lose out to Finding Nemo. While Nemo is a great kid’s cartoon, it is laughable that the better film will definitely lose.

As an aside to this last statement, the British movie-going public just voted for its worst film of all time. The result? Titanic.

As Jonny once said, we’re not completely useless.

Special Ruthless Ratings:

  • Story: 7
  • Acting: ???
  • Direction: 8
  • Re-watchability : I’ve already seen it twice and no doubt a third before Xmas is out.
  • Overall: 8
  • Number of times film was paused for snoozing relatives: 2
  • Number of better films shown this Xmas: 0
  • Number of times the dog was used as a spare wheel: 1
  • Number of times tadpoles were made to explode like popcorn: 1
  • Number of times you were puzzled it made it to TV almost before its theatrical release stateside: 5