Les Triplettes de Belleville

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Les Triplettes de Belleville

Postby A » Tue Oct 17, 2006 9:36 pm

Les Triplettes de Belleville
Belleville Rendez-vous (2002 / France, Belgium, Canada, UK / Sylvain Chomet)

It is always a difficult task, making a film with little or no dialogue. But having no dialogue doesnt mean having no sound. If we take a film by Sharunas Bartas who likes to use this approach, in Koridorius much of the action is focused on images. But the tissue that usually keeps everything together and provides new clues is the sound. Similarly, the sound-design in Alexander Sokurov's evocation of 19th century russian literature in his Tikhiye stranitsy (1993) is equally important as the image. And while there is some dialogue in it, a lot of it is reduced to an incomprehensible mumble, a soundscape of whispering dialogue that serves to remind the viewer of the thousand pages of written words this film is paying hommage to.

The incomprehensible is also one of the main themes in the films of Jacques Tati. Les Triplettes de Belleville is inspired by his genius. If we take Tati's Playtime from 1967, we have a protagonist who is struggling with his surroundings, with modern technology, and the everyday life it implies. A man of the past, he is stuck in a technological present he doesn't understand. But like Buster Keaton, another likeminded comedian from the silent era, he never gives up, using the world around him to his own means, in order not to be abused himself. Like Tati, Les Triplettes de Belleville is often wickedly funny while keeping a sense of melancholy and nostalgia. And like Tati, director Sylvain Chomet gives a brilliant caricature of the progressively consumerist society and a superficial world where history is being rewritten.

The main storyline evolves around a french bicycle-racer and his portuguese step-grandmother. Complementing this disparate match is their dog. When our hero gets kidnapped during the Tour de France his caretaker embarks on a journey over the ocean to rescue her beloved from the french mafia. When she arrives on the shores of Belleville, she encounters the titles Triplettes, a group of three old ladies who were once famous stage performers. With their help and some luck, she is able to track down the hidingplace of the mafia and bring the film to a satisfying conclusion.

Everything takes place in a world situated between fantasy and reality. The spaces and events are grounded in reality but have a sense of their own. Equally, the times are an undefinable mix of modern and old, situated somewhere in the 60s, seeming to spring from the creators imaginations as much as from our experienced reality. But these stylistics serve to reveal our own world through a magnifying glass, the mixture of alienation working very much like Tim Burton's Batman (1989). But if Batman was a cartoon that had come to reality, Les Triplettes de Belleville prove to be the opposite. A challenging animated film for grown-ups that takes the medium of animation seriously and uses its possibilities to create a world of its own. Thus it also creatively challenges our perceptions of the possible and the beautiful. The disrespect towards the plot, and the importance of atmosphere and the moment over the whole are also making it hard to grasp. Situated somewhere between the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Bill Plympton, the film is nevertheless entirely original, and any reference it uses is made an advantage.

Like mentioned above, the sounddesign of the film deserves as much attention as the animation, and the best moments in the film happen when the two choreographies meet. Seamlessly merging 3-D animation and CGI with traditional one-dimensional drawings, the music by Benot Charest is also a delightful mixture of past tunes and present beats, and the way it is used for the whole film by creators and created alike makes for one of the most satisfying audio-visual cinematic experiences of recent years. When everyday objects like newspapers, tires and a vacuum cleaner become musical instruments, dynamite a necessary means of survival, and the subconscious feelings of a dog get explored in hilariously absurd dream-sequences you know there is something special going on.

Re: Les Triplettes de Belleville

Postby trevor826 » Wed Oct 18, 2006 8:01 am

Good to see so much praise for the use of sound A, the way it has been used plus the overall lack of dialogue has made this a truly international film that is suitable for the fairly young as well as adults.

I only regret the fact that I didn't see it in the cinema but the trailer made it look like one of Disney's lesser efforts, which in hindsight, is a terrible comparison. I was also put off initially by the very obvious cgi but it actually works well within the context of the film, if that makes me a hypocrit considering my comments on other films then so be it.

My only complaint would be that it finishes far too quickly, some animations go on far too long or are too repetitive but Les Triplettes de Belleville or Belleville Rendez-vous as it was released in the UK could have done with an extra 10 minutes or so rather than the very sudden conclusion.

Have you seen any more of Chomet's work? I have a video of the excellent "La Vieille Dame et les Pigeons" tucked away somewhere and remember the criticisms for its portrayal of American tourists but all I will say is "If the cap fits".

Looking forward to his future efforts and just hope he maintains his own unique style and humour.

Tartan video are due to release a 2 disc collectors edition this month, it has already been put back once but hopefully they'll add enough to make it a worthwhile purchase, they didn't really help themselves by giving copies of the film away with the Sunday Times newspaper a few weeks ago.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Les Triplettes de Belleville

Postby A » Wed Oct 18, 2006 9:09 pm

I agree, that a lot of it seems rushed at times, but I think this will wear of with further viewings. I wouldn't have no problem with it going on longer, though.
The sound-design (and the music) is really remarkable. I love the scene where Champion and Mme. Souza are eating while their dog is waitinbg to get served. I think it's something like five minutes of observation and perfect sound.

I haven't seen anything else by Chomet, but would like to see La Vieille Dame et les Pigeons. Hope he stays true to himself in the future, as the interview I saw of him makes him appear like a true artist. Hopefully he'll evolve in a positive way and get the opportunity to make even better films in the future.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that he "Belleville Rendez-Vous" doesn't use the usual pop-culture references to entertain the older audience but has something genuine to say about our society.
This doesn't necessary make it superior to films like "Finding Nemo" or the better Disney's, but it's far more adult.
I'd maybe even put him on a level with Miyazaki, because of the ambiguity of his "message" and his original style, but we'll have to see if that will really turn out this way with subsequent works.

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