By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
This year, for the first time that I can recall, I’ll have two animated features on my 10-best list. One is Finding Nemo, of which more when our lists issue runs. The other is a terrific first feature by the young French comic-strip creator and animator Sylvain Chomet. The Triplets of Belleville, Chomet has said, owes a debt to Disney’s golden age, but nothing could be further from Mouse House cute than this weird and wonderful tale of a clubfooted Portuguese granny, aided by three beat-up former music-hall entertainers, taking on the French mafia to save her grandson. The movie’s real antecedents, as a tiny poster of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday mounted on a wall modestly declares, are Jacques Tati, as well as Chaplin, Keaton and other giants of silent (or in this case, almost silent) comedy.
The heroes of The Triplets of Belleville, which is set in a hovel of a 1950s apartment house, are lonely, homely castoffs who, in the dogged pursuit of survival, manage to outmaneuver human and technological powers far superior to their own. Characters are defined by how they move: The indomitable Madame Souza clumps along on her huge iron shoe; her grandson, Champion, morphs from a fat little boy into a bony, cranelike sad sack with a beaky resemblance to Adrien Brody (or maybe a fugitive from an Edward Gorey illustration), forever bent over a bicycle as his grandmother trains him for the Tour de France. When a pair of rectangular mobsters abduct the boy, Madame Souza and her faithful dog follow them across the ocean to Belleville, a looming city of tall buildings and long shadows.
The Triplets of Belleville is gorgeous, but it’s not pretty. Chomet does funny, scary and beautiful things with scale. Madame Souza, pedaling along in her homemade boat, is dwarfed both by the silhouette of the huge cargo ship that’s carrying her grandson and, once arrived in Belleville, by the three stringy-haired crones, dirt-poor but surviving joyfully on dishes made from the frogs they fish out of a nearby swamp, who take her in and join the search for Champion. Triplets riffs amusingly on stereotypes of America and France — the identity of this scary city is announced by an obese Statue of Liberty, and one of Chomet’s most hilarious creations is an obsequious waiter whose ludicrously elongated head keeps flattening into a horizontal bow. The soundtrack, with its ambient noise, its grunts and sighs that pass for human communication, its bits of Django Reinhardt and music made out of vacuum cleaners and bicycle spokes, is strangely moving. And while, like most animated films, The Triplets of Belleville was made by many people, this divinely eccentric movie feels as if it came straight to the screen from one man’s wild and wantonly free imagination.
THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE | Written and directed by SYLVAIN CHOMET | Produced by DIDIER BRUNNER and PAUL CADIEUX Released by Sony Pictures Classics | At Laemmle’s Royal; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino; Landmark’s Rialto, South Pasadena
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