Sunday, October 30, 2005

Film Review: "The Triplets of Belleville"

Film originally viewed 10/29/05; DVD courtesy of Netflix

I've never seen a film quite like "The Triplets of Belleville," and I mean that as a compliment. The plot is simple yet the details are so strange, so fantastical, that simple exposition utterly fails to convey its whimsy. And it is the details that give the film its rich complexion. I'd rather not reveal too much of the plot, because the film's surprises, dark humor, and gift for exaggeration are best absorbed as they unfold.

But the thumbnail sketch is this: Madame Souza adopts her grandson, Champion, and the boy is at first lonely and unhappy. She dotes on him, buying him a dog and a tricycle, and he shows a particular aptitude for cycling. Jump ahead a few years, and Madame Souza is training Champion for the Tour de France, where he is kidnapped by the wine Mafia and taken to Belleville. Madame Souza and Bruno, the family dog, take off in pursuit. Lacking money and huddled together beneath a bridge, the duo are discovered and befriended by a formerly famous trio of vaudeville performers -- The Triplets of Belleville. The Triplets take them in and help in the attempt to rescue Champion.

The narrative is advanced almost entirely without dialogue. This device works well, because the visual portion is stunning; the animation is well rendered but it is the artwork that really shines. Belleville's winding streets, towering skyscrapers, and grotesquely obese populace bring life to the filmmakers' vision of a bustling metropolis with a seedy, thinly concealed underworld.

Perhaps I have given away too much already. But particular delights for me included the square-shouldered mafiosi, the dutiful but annoying boy scout, the musical "instruments" used by the Triplets in their act (including refrigerator shelves, a newspaper, and a vacuum cleaner), Madame Souza's unique training regimen for Champion (including calf-vacuuming!), the Triplets' unorthodox hunting and culinary preferences, and just about every scene with Bruno the dog.

At its heart, "The Triplets of Belleville" is a sweet story rendered in a highly unusual idiom. The protagonists exude virtue; the film treasures love, loyalty, devotion, friendship, and perseverance against soulless villains. The film manages to be funny, touching, and perplexing all at the same time. Highly entertaining and utterly original, "The Triplets of Belleville" is a visual and whimsical tour de force. Check it out if you get the chance.

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