Thursday, 31 March 2016

Film Review: Belleville Rendezvous

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster (MoviePosters)
  • Director: Sylvain Chomet
  • Native Title: Les Triplettes de Belleveille
  • Primary Language: French
  • Format: Colour
  • Year of Release: 2003
  • Budget: est. $8,000,000
  • Film Length: 80 minutes
  • Production Company: Les Armateurs, Vivi Film, Production Champion
  The Triplets of Belleville, also known as Belleville Rendezvous is a 2003 French animated film that follows the elderly Madame Souza (not named except in the credits) as she pursues to save her grandson Champion, who is kidnapped from a run of the Tour de France and taken by shady characters to the city of Belleville. There she comes across three elderly women, who were once renowned Broadway singers the Bellevilel Triplets, and together they work to rescue Champion as he is forced to ride in a mock Tour De France by French gangsters.

  Perhaps the first initially striking thing is how the characters in the film are portrayed. "Chomet relishes caricaturing the body shapes of his characters - whether it's the overly muscular thighs and protuberant nose of Champion, or the grotesquely obese residents of Belleville." (Dawson, 2003). The cariacatures we see are so illustrative of the characters they portray that it is easy to see the comic-book past of the director. It could be argued that these cariacatures easily appear lifted out of a political cartoon, for a few characters in particular - aside from Champion's oversized legs and the ball-shaped Bellevillians - are the two other horse-faced cyclists (one of which, after falling over lets out an very horse-like whinny as they are executed for collapsing, not unlike stories of injured racehorses) while the stunted mechanic who takes care of the cycling machine posesses a tiny frame, enormous ears, tiny buck teeth and a twitching nose, squeaking uncontrollably as if he were a rat posing as a man. This serves to make the film's impression stick, perhaps lightening the mood to a rather serious situation.

Figure 2: Despite all these features and holiday snaps form Disneyland, we saw no cheese. (unknown)
  There is more to the expression than cariacatures however. There is very little dialogue but this is not to the film's detriment. Instead it might be to its merit. "Dialogue is left aside as a tool to impart meaning; the film prefers to use clever sound design and dynamically drawn characterisation, explored through expression, physicality and movement along with the occasional musical rendition, as the major device to drive the plot." (Huggins, 2003). Without using dialogue to explain everything, what's going on is conveyed using visual or audial metaphors such as the aforementioned racehorse-like qualities of Tour De France cyclists. The French mafia consists of armies of identical, square-shoulderd hunchback goons that through the power of dark colours and uniform clothing can meld with each other to form a gestalt entity, or act as carry support for their gnomish bosses who wear suits with similar qualities to be carried around like babies. The visual metaphors could be listed endlessly, thus the short of it is that like Paprika, The Triplets of Belleville sets aside realism to fill the screen with metaphor in the form of some visual aid, a trait often shared with political cartoons that attempt to convey a message using every line and shape even if it means the portrayal is completely off-the-wall.

Figure 3: Are their suits that inky, ir is their boss wearing a concealed baby-carrier? (Beenjammin, 2011)
  Like all political cartoons, there is a level of social commentary written within the visual gag. And the film relishes in the suggestion. "From the opening musical number, Chomet throws in terrific set-pieces (Mme. Souza chasing an ocean liner on a pedalo, a last reel getaway that would put Hollywood to shame), subtle cultural commentary (Belleville is a thinly-disguised America)" (Thomas, 2003). The final scene could very well be, as Thomas suggests, a jab at American spectacle cinema; the cycling machine, chased by a dozen Mafia cars with sun-roofs used as shooting ports, that tip over easily, catch fire with the slightest imbalance and grip to the road like the city is paved with banana peels. One gangster goes as far as to draw out a rocket launcher, only for the rear-heavy car to tip backwards the moment he fires it. The body count for this one scene alone is also astonishing, as we quite clearly see gangsters crushed and thrown about by the chaos. As enjoyable as this scene is, it can be seen to satirise many common tropes found in American car chase sequences. Combine this with the rather unpleasant portrayal of Americans as spherical and obsessed with food, the film is perhaps a critique of American sensibilities when it comes to entertainment or drama.

Figure 4: Just one of the many over-the-top ways that Mafia cars are disabled in the final chase. (Fabic, 2015)
  On the surface, The Triplets of Belleville is an entertaining satirical comedy. Beneath the surface, the film uses this comedy and the appearance of a political cartoon given life to make a point about the growing predominance of American culture, particularly with visual media. Despite this critique, it is a deeply enjoyable movie that feels as though the director took a political comic and with immense love gave it life for the big screen with all the crude humour and reality-bending flair that comes with that sort of medium.


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