****/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
written and directed by Sylvain Chomet
by Walter Chaw An extraordinary, melancholy ode to the endless, mercurial peculiarity of life, Sylvain Chomet's The Triplets of Belleville (Les Triplettes de Belleville) finds as its existential constant the persistence of art, the familial ties that bind, and the echoing green of synchronicity. It is the finest film of its kind since Babe: Pig in the City, Gallic in the best implications of the term: self-conscious, intelligent, envelope-pushing. Its scope is immense both literally and philosophically, a series of dog dreams within providing a bit of core disquiet that work at you like the best poetry can. It's easy to forget the power of metaphor when it's bandied about like so much corrupt currency in sub-par product aching for subtext--in fact, The Triplets of Belleville is so close to poetry, something by William Carlos Williams, perhaps, that it touches something pure in art and archetype, reminding in the process of what symbolic language can do when wielded with a skilled, steady hand.
Desperate to find a source of joy for her morose grandson, Madame Souza offers a puppy and a bicycle, both of which find a place in the heart of little Champion. Time passes to find the chubby and detached Champion grown into the body of a (champion) bicyclist, with Mme. Souza his tireless manager/trainer, massaging his body with vacuum cleaners and egg-beaters and tuning his bike as she tunes her piano, tuning fork and metronome and all. (The film is so well balanced that later, as the Triplets make their appearance, their music is made with similar found household objects.) Champion is abducted by gangsters interested in hooking world-class bicyclists up to a machine for gambling purposes, leaving Souza and the Triplets (an Andrews Sisters-era singing group) to search for him in the titular gotham.
The Triplets of Belleville feels like a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film (more specifically, a collaboration between Jeunet's art director/co-director Marc Caro and illustrators Edward Gorey and Dave McKean), one scripted by Roald Dahl at his most perverse and boasting of the sort of de facto serendipitous choreography of Jeunet-Caro's Delicatessen, as well as the dissection of family and the cult of childhood of their The City of Lost Children. It mounts a compelling case for the idea of television and film being our new oral tradition, opening with a newsreel of the Triplets performing with send-ups of Josephine Baker and Fred Astaire and ending on first a haunting scene of drilled athletes chasing a movie screen, then a moment in which Champion reminisces about his grandmother before what is essentially a cathode shrine. And at its best, The Triplets of Belleville reminds that the cinema is both a visual and musical medium, telling its story without the aid of dialogue and relying exclusively on our own capacity for understanding the intricate intimacies of greed and loyalty, memory, and love to tell its tale. An instant classic. Originally published: February 13, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Some reviewers have reported that Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The Triplets of Belleville shaves too much information off the top of the image, but the problem did not make itself evident during my viewing of the film, leading me to believe that the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation compounds with claustrophobic visuals to become extremely sensitive to the overscan of 16x9 displays. The transfer, windowboxed for the first few minutes, is exceptional in and of itself, if also sharp enough that the CGI assists are easier to localize than they were at the multiplex. Likewise outstanding is the French Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, misidentified as being available in "English" or "Spanish" when the language options actually refer to the flavour of subtitles that will occasionally translate signs and signifiers. Since there's hardly a word uttered therein, it wouldn't have made any sense to dub the film, whose ingenious sound design registers with supreme clarity. The track is not showy in the sense that it will tax your system, but the foley work is a thing of beauty almost as overtly impressive as the animation, and the subwoofer is called into shocking play once or twice.
Extras include three magnificent, subtitled commentary excerpts--for the opening sequence, the Triplets' reunion performance, and the "turning the wheel" scene--from unnamed participants one pinpoints as director Sylvain Chomet and composer Benoit Charest. The two reveal that projectionists panicked over the prologue's mock print damage and recount an argument with an animator who strenuously objected to Fred Astaire losing the battle against his shoes! Charest's sarcastic reaction to Champion's supper ("I want the recipe!") prompts Chomet to remember childhood meals consisting of mashed potatoes and sardines--I think we've solved the mystery of the film's hallucinogenic quality. "The Making of The Triplets of Belleville" (16 mins.) and "The Cartoon According to Sylvain Chomet" (5 mins.) comprise a section of largely English-language featurettes overseen by Véronique Martin. Here we unearth the digital DNA in this supposedly traditional animation, not that using all the tools at his or her disposal is something a filmmaker should ever be made to feel guilty about. Rounding out the disc: the indescribable live-action video for "Belleville Rendez-Vous," as well as The Triplets of Belleville's U.S. theatrical trailer.
81 minutes; PG-13; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); French DD 5.1; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Columbia TriStar