“Swinging Belleville rendez-vous / Marathon dancing, doop-de-doo / Voodoo, can-can aren’t taboo / The world is strange in rendez-vous” ~ The Belleville Rendezvous
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Genres: Animation, Comedy
Running Time: 78 mins
Release Date: 29th August 2003 (UK)
I never used to have that much interest in animation and animated movies. I enjoyed a good Disney/Pixar movie as much as the next person, and could see the skill that goes making them, but I would never have made a point of keeping up with the latest ones or buying them on DVD. And other than that I associated animation with cartoons for children and Japanese anime, which doesn’t really do anything for me.
That was until a friend made me watch this movie, which isn’t like anything I had ever seen.
It’s a French made film. You can get a DVD that was produced for the English-language market but it hardly matters as there is no dialogue in it. There are maybe a dozen lines of spoken words but they’re incidental, whether or not you understand them makes no difference to your understanding or enjoyment of the plot. I personally prefer the French version, because I can understand what’s being said anyway, and because subtitles get in the way of the pictures.
And you don’t want to miss any of the visual detail of this piece because the animation is sublime, entirely deserving of the Oscar nomination it received, with beautiful attention to detail.
The plot of the film is a surreal comedy, although there are some sweet and touching moments.
The film begins with young boy Champion moving to live with his grandmother, Madame Souza, following the death of his parents.
He’s an obviously lonely young boy, so she buys him a puppy, Bruno – who becomes a major character in his own right – and we see that the pair become firm friends.
But the boy still has little to fill his life, so when Madame Souza discovers that he harbours a secret fascination with bicycles she begins to train him for a career in professional road racing.
The scenes which depict their training regime and also the passing of the years are both delightfully drawn and poignant, as we see the urban sprawl encroaching on the once lovely, peaceful countryside.
Eventually Champion is ready for the race of his life – the Tour de France.
There is much excitement on the day of race, but trouble soon strikes, as Champion, along with two of the other competitors are kidnapped by the mafia, who have more sinister plans for their pedal power.
Madame Souza and Bruno give chase but are unable to save the trio from being loaded onto a boat bound for the island of Belleville.
They make their own way to the metropolis but with no money Madame Souza struggles to enlist help in rescuing her grandson.
That is until she happens upon an aging set of triplets.
As The Triplets of Belleville the sisters were once famous stars, but they have since fallen on hard times, even reduced to catching their own food. But they are sympathetic to Souza and Bruno, they take them in and agree to help.
If I tell you what happens after that I’ll spoil the rest of the movie. Suffice it to say that I didn’t call it surreal for nothing.
I love this movie, it’s clever, and funny, and charming, and a visual work of art. It’s also full of surprises and has a wonderful soundtrack, featuring the gorgeous voice of Béatrice Bonifassi – who I’m just a little bit in love with..
In fact, even if the film doesn’t sound like your cup of tea I’d recommend downloading the soundtrack.
After watching this picture and seeing how beautifully a story could be told and the depth of characters that could be created through drawings alone my eyes were opened to a whole new genre. I really became interested in animated film and realised that there is a wealth of graphic story telling out there for adults as well children, most of it a lot more imaginative than anything Disney has to offer.
But start with this movie, it really is a gem.