Belleville Rendez-vous Review
It's hard not to admire French filmmakers. While Hollywood is busy churning out the latest action comedy starring Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence or both, or a CG-animated epic that screams pretentiousness, the French film industry is hard at work on genuinely innovative and original material. Already this summer, Swimming Pool has given us food for thought, and now the acclaimed Les Triplettes de Belleville has made its way to this blighted island, under the title of Belleville Rendez-vous.
Madame Souza is training her grandson (the "Champion") for the Tour de France. He is on a rigid regime and his physical discipline is such that he can keep going even when the other competitors have collapsed. But things take a sinister turn when the Champion and two other cyclists are kidnapped by members of the French mafia, and taken to the American city of Belleville (which bears more than a passing resemblance to New York), where they will be made to cycle non-stop until only one is left alive, for the entertainment of the French mafia. With her overweight dog in tow, Madame Souza arrives in Belleville and enlists the aid of three out-of-luck former singers (the "Triplettes" of the title).
That's about as all there is to say about the story, because in reality the plot is not overly important. Belleville Rendez-vous is a simple story told in an intriguing way. The film itself features almost no dialogue, and instead relies on the characters' actions to carry the story along. A lot of the time this works, but on occasions it leads to moments where the film just plods by waiting for something interesting to happen. The thin plot is, in reality, a prop for several highly amusing set piece sequences.
The film is drawn and animated in a warm, sketch-like manner. After watching the heavily cleaned-up look of all Disney's films of the last decade, it is a pleasure to see an animated film that has rough pencil lines and actually looks as if the artists were not ashamed of the fact that it is hand-drawn. The style of the pencil lines and backgrounds probably comes closest to Disney's 1961 adaptation of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, if you're looking for a comparison. That said, the character design is very different, with an extremely detailed, caricatured style, similar to what you would find in the political cartoons in the broadsheets.
Top marks for the visuals then, although the projection I saw was a little cropped at the top and bottom, resulting in a slightly cramped look vertically, and also cropping off some on-screen text and important animation details. I suspect that the original aspect ratio is 1.66:1, and that it was matted to 1.85:1 for theatrical presentation.
It is somewhat hard to rate the acting in this film, given that there are only four lines of dialogue at most, spaced throughout the film. The animated acting is excellent, with all the characters being given unique quirks, such as Madame Souza, who has a habit of pushing her glasses on to her nose when she is worried or thoughtful. Several characters are given animalistic behaviour, such as the two kidnapped bikers, who strongly resemble horses in their posture, facial expressions and breathing.
The film is quite slow-paced, and its lack of dialogue may put some people off. It will probably not appeal to those who expect a fast-paced and involving plot, for the story of Belleville Rendez-vous is neither of these, but if you persevere, it should be a rewarding if slightly inconsequential viewing experience.
The only thing that baffles me more than the concept for this film is the ridiculously unwarranted 12A certificate, which seems to have been bestowed on the film for around ten seconds of "cartoon nudity" (i.e. a topless dancer).