Friday, February 26, 2016

Triplets of Belleville

What a visual tour-de-force is The Triplets of Belleville! This animated film by Sylvain Chomet
about the triumph of the downtrodden is musical, thriller, and whimsy all in one. It was nominated for the 2003 Academy Award for Animated Feature, but since then I hadn't seen it around. Browsing on the library's video shelves - our preferred source for at-home movies - I spotted this, remembered, and checked it out.

The primary characters are a small old woman; her bicyclist son (grandson?) - leg-muscle-bound, but gaunt elsewhere on his frame; their dog Bruno, a large weary belly-dragging pooch; and the Triplets. We first see them as young women in the Twenties, playing theaters, singing and swaying to jazz-inflected melody. Next time we see them they're entertaining on a small-venue stage with a couple of short stools and a refrigerator for accompaniment. They sing around a small fire in the evening, joined by other penniless folk washed up on the tide. Still shaking their hips and tossing out harmonies - the spirit that makes them dance shows no ill-effects per their reduced circumstances. Finally they are crones, as Macbeth's Weird Sisters were triplets. And song is still their power.

This film is set in Steampunk times - the source of the electricity in this film is muscle-power. The bicyclist is kidnapped by the Mafia while on one of his long-distance races. The domino-shaped goons need someone to pedal their boss's operation - our hero and 2 other exhausted cyclists provide the legwork.

Mom and Bruno and the Triplets are off to the rescue. The Mafia have cars and weapons, our gang have ingenuity.

The animation uses some live-action footage, along with drawn and tinted cityscapes, frequently viewed from above. Much of the film looks like watercolors from another time. There are touches of Art Deco - the ocean-liner leaving port, impossibly tall, majestic and un-boardable, with neither need nor inclination to see what's at water-level. And in its wake, laboring along in a row-boat, is Mom. She's not fast, but she doesn't give up. She was the bicyclist's trainer, before he was snatched - when he pulled her on his training rides, the whistle was parked in her mouth, setting a cadence with every breath. At night she tuned his wheels, on a spindle that easily became a zoetrope.

This film is tagged as a comedy, but while it does have funny moments, it is really more of an eccentric view of life. Though you may laugh at such characters, you may also feel just as they do, nudged around by fates and forces, but with the tools of joie de vivre well in hand.

As I've said since high school, "I'd rather live till I die than die till I'm dead!"