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.