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November 04, 2003

Moviegoing Update 4 -- "The Triplets of Belleville"

Dear Friedrich --

The best thing I've seen at a movie theater in the past few weeks was the trailer for the Franco-Canadian animated feature The Triplets of Belleville. Have you seen it? The film's visual style is out of something I adore, the European graphic-novel tradition -- full of touch, charm, and psychological perceptions, and inhabiting the art (and not pop art) tradition. No superheroes, in other words, and rather little cyber-techno anything; no sullenly rebellious indie-slacker attitude either. Instead, the tradition is droll and urbane, unafraid of absurdism and dream logic, and often erotic.

I'm trying hard to avoid using the term "grown-up" for fear of offending someone. But there it is; unlike our comic book tradition, which is forever defining itself in relationship to adolescence (whether pro or contra), the Euros have a comic book tradition that's straightforwardly grown-up. When I try to come up with examples Americans may know I don't do too well. They're hard to find; I just visited one of NYC's biggest comics stores and found, amid thousands of slacker and superhero and Japanese comic books, only three examples of the Euro thing. But maybe a not-bad comparison would be to a cross between "Tintin" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," although for all I know I'm blanking out on a better comparison. Can visitors who know the graphic-novel world better than I do help out here?


"The Triplets" seems like an entrancing mix of the modest and the fabulously ambitious. Its basic esthetic is 2D, inkily hand-drawn, and Jacques-Tati-esque, and the film seems determined not to violate that language. Yet it's also been enhanced with extravagant, computer-generated 3D effects. It's quite something to watch the camera swoop around a scene while the elements in the scene retain their hand-made quality and texture -- no horrid Pixar light, and no Naugahyde flesh. What excited me most about what I saw is the way the idea of the film seems to be to use the new technologies to serve a traditional esthetic. What a plus that I happen to adore this particular esthetic! We Americans spend too damn much time using the art to show off the fancy technology; we over-love the experience of using new gizmos to knock ourselves into happy-infant stupors. IMHO, of course. Let's have the human element prevail for a change, and let's let ourselves enjoy a few grownup (if anarchistic) pleasures.

I read in an interview with the film's French writer/director, Sylvain Chomet, that the film took five years to make. God bless the crazy fanaticism and devotion of some artists, eh?

Here's the Sony Classics Web site for the movie. It's slushy and Flash-heavy, but you can get a sense of the movie's visual style as well as read some interesting interviews with the filmmakers. Here's the movie's trailer. Here's an informative NYTimes article by Marcelle Clements. The movie opens November 26.

Boy oh boy do I hope the film's good. It was apparently the surprise sensation at Cannes this year, and I've decided to do the gullible-rube thing and take that fact as reason to be optimistic.



posted by Michael at November 4, 2003


Whoa, dude, you're like on a movie roll.

I have to admit I'm intrigued by what I've read about "The Triplets of Belleville." It would be nice to see it if it ever gets to my local cineplex.

Regrettably, that may never happen. I don't see tons of, ahem, artsy films because I would have to haul my aging posterior to Hollywood, which is quite a hike. I suppose you don't have that problem in Manhattan, as access to culture is pretty much the only sane reason to live in that otherwise forbidding place.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 4, 2003 12:10 PM

The local art multi-plex is a bus ride from my apt. I'll have to keep my eye open for "The Triplets of Belleville".

Why do we see so few good stories? The kids want flash. They want dash and daring-do. Grab their aesthetic testicles and keep the adrenalin pumping. That's the audience movie studios are going for, because they don't see mature adults as being worth the effort.

Kids have the free cash and the free time. Grownups most often have neither. And even when they have one, they don't usually have the other. So you go where the disposable income is.

So you get special effects extravaganzas with about as much life as flagstone walkway.

As long as movie executives cater to the young the situation will not change.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on November 4, 2003 2:58 PM

FvB -- I wonder if it wouldn't be worth going to the effort of seeing "Triplets" on a movie screen. I was disappointed by the repros of art from the film that I found on the web -- you can't see the texture of the lines very well, where on the movie screen the handmade quality was really evident. But maybe it'll work well on a big TV screen too.

Alan -- Ain't it a pity? I do wish adults would assert their tastes a little more, and that culture-producers would see more potential in the adult market than they seem to. It'd be nice too if kids showed a little interest in growing up these days ... But that's another rant.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 4, 2003 7:11 PM

To aid you in your struggle to define the aesthetic of this movie, may I suggest the term "Magritte-esque"?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 4, 2003 7:35 PM

At 72dpi anything is gonna stink on the web. Some works of art do well at low resolution, others fail miserably, no matter how good they are in 'real life'. See it on film to get the full impact. Then on video to remind yourself of how good it was.

Michael, while I like Shakespeare and all that (read Harry Turtledove's "Ruled Brittannia" sometime, he captures the man as no one else has), he got it wrong. The line should be, come the revolution the first thing we do is kill all the ideologues.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on November 4, 2003 10:58 PM

The film is called Belleville Rendezvous in the UK, where it has been a minor hit, even playing in some multiplexes.

Visually the film is both remarkable and unique in my experience. There's a 3-D quality to the animation that is unlike anything I've seen.

The story is both bizarre and completely involving, although when I tell friends that it's about a boy who enters the Tour de France and is kidnapped, and there is no dialogue, I do get some funny looks.

Seek it out wherever it may be playing. It may be the most memorable film I've seen in the last few years.

Posted by: Lance Knobel on November 5, 2003 7:11 AM

Lance -- Thanks for the report. Oh dear, now my hopes really are getting up...

Hey, did anyone else notice that the new Loony Tunes movies was directed by Joe Dante? I wonder if he's still got his old zip.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 5, 2003 11:10 AM

It's such a pretty film, I love it! SO wierd and wonderful!

Posted by: Eilidh on June 5, 2004 6:12 PM

I found the movie Triplets of Belleville wonderful. It is a wonderful new type of art that has been brought to my eyes now i only wish there were more like it.

Posted by: brittany on June 8, 2004 3:45 PM

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