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Triple Treat

 

The Triplets of Belleville

Sylvain Comet, France / Belgium / Canada, 2003

Rating: 4.0

 

 

Posted: February 16, 2004

By Laurence Station

French artist Sylvain Chomet pays tribute to everything from the complicated slapstick set pieces of filmmaker Jacques Tati to the wordless art form of professional mimes with The Triplets of Belleville, an animated odyssey of striking visuals and wonderfully personalized characterizations. The film follows the quest (reminiscent of the one in Finding Nemo) of Madame Souza and her obese pet dog Bruno to rescue her adopted grandson, Champion, from the mafia. Champion, along with two other cyclists, has been kidnapped by the mob while racing in the Tour de France and taken across the ocean to the bizarre megalopolis of Belleville, where most citizens are obscenely overweight and hamburgers are king. (Hmmm... which western country might Belleville be meant to embody?) There, in a perverse They Shoot Horses Don't They? contest of endurance, Champion and his fellow riders are forced to ride stationary bikes in front of a projected roadway while nefarious gangsters take bets on who will last longest. The chief difference between that famous dance-contest film and Triplets, however, is that in the latter, failure leads to an actual shooting -- complete with neighing horse sound effect.

This being a mostly dialogue-free affair, Chomet doesn't bother with explaining the how or why behind the mob's actions. The real focus is the interesting characters and situations Madame Souza and faithful dog Bruno encounter as they attempt to save Champion. Foremost among these are the titular triplets: Former music hall stars of the '30s who performed alongside such luminaries as Django Reinhardt, Josephine Baker and Fred Astaire (who has the misfortune of being devoured by his tap shoes), the triplets (now living hand-to-mouth -- or hand-to-frog, if their dietary tastes are any indication), readily agree to help Madame Souza rescue her grandson.

Chomet's animation style is grotesquely exaggerated: Champion has enormous thighs and calves (the boy obviously does a lot of pedaling); ships and buildings are outrageously proportioned, towering to dramatic vertical points; and facial features are unflatteringly stretched and emphasized. But Chomet's consistency with this fantastical approach grounds his imaginatively rendered world in a kind of uniform reality, and the film's physics also stay in line with his gravity-defying world.

The Triplets of Belleville is a film that finds substance in its style, be it the visual commentary of witnessing overweight bystanders cheering athletic riders as they race by, or a city where too big is never Too Big. Chomet never overstates his themes of detrimental excess or creating art out of everyday objects (as when the triplets turn a refrigerator, newspaper and vacuum into instruments). And though the barebones plot and hasty resolution proves less than innovative, the journey there is truly an engaging, eye-popping treat.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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