February 16, 2024

The Beautiful Ugliness of THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE

2003 / 80 min
Review by Pepper the Poopy😺

If there was an Oscar category for originality, The Triplets of Belleville would surely have taken home a trophy back in 2003. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature that year, but while Finding Nemo arguably deserved to win, this one had a narrative, aesthetic and tone unlike anything we’ve really seen before…in a cartoon anyway.

The weird-ass story has an elderly woman, Madame Souza, using her meager resources to help her grandson, Champion, achieve his dream of participating in the Tour de France. But during the event, he and two other bikers are abducted by mobsters, who take them to America and force them to compete in backroom gambling houses (with fatal consequences for the loser). With family dog Bruno, Souza follows them to New York. Penniless, she’s taken in by three old ladies who were once a French singing sensation known as Triplets of Belleville. 

The triplets themselves are sort of a subplot, introduced in the film’s first scene by appearing on French television performing their hit song, “Belleville Rendez-Vous” (which was also nominated for an Oscar). It’s a surreal sequence that sort-of sets the tone for the entire film. When they reappear much later, they’re kindly but repulsive old ladies, living in a sleazy apartment building and killing frogs in a nearby marsh to sustain themselves. They still perform, though, with Souza joining their band. And eventually, when Souza learns where Champion is being held, the triplets are more than happy to help free him, taking on local gangsters in an amusing climactic chase through the city streets.

Chick-Fil-A's secret ingredient.
Whimsical, weird and often grotesque, The Triplets of Bellevue is fairly light on characterization and plot (the latter is sometimes set aside for strange sequences of Bruno’s dreams or the Triplets’ sickening eating habits). But it’s brilliantly animated, sometimes reminding me of a stylistic mash-up of Studio Ghibli and Heavy Metal (along with a smidgen of CGI in some scenes). The characters themselves - even the minor ones - are cleverly conceived, their appearance and movements reflecting their roles in the story. Speaking of which, the film is nearly free of dialogue, the narrative largely driven by expressions, action and Benoît Charest’s evocative score.

At first, there doesn’t appear to be any overt effort to engage the viewer on an emotional level. With the exception of Bruno the Dog, the characters seem fairly aloof. But as the story unfolds, Souza’s fearless resolve is ultimately kind of touching. The Triplets of Bellevue is sometimes aesthetically abhorrent, but as animated features go, there hasn’t been anything else quite like it.

Previously released on Blu-ray in 2017, this new version features slightly upgraded picture and sound, along with vintage bonus features, as well as a new teaser for director Sylvain Chomet’s next film.


FEATURETTES - The Making of The Triplets of Belleville; The Cartoon According to Sylvain Chomet.

THE MAGNIFICENT LIFE OF MARCEL PAGNOL TEASER -  This is a teaser trailer for Chomet next animated feature, due in 2025.

SELECTED SCENES WITH COMMENTARY - 3 scenes with commentary by director Sylvain Chomet.

MUSIC VIDEO - “Belleville Rendez-Vous”


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