Belleville Rendez-Vous


I've always loved animated films, and I'm a huge Jacques Tati fan, so I couldn't resist a film which was advertised as being heavily influenced by Tati. Belleville Rendez-Vous is a superb and original piece of work. Unlike many modern animations, it is hand drawn, and has a luminous, elongated style. The skyscrapers in Belleville (a not very heavily disguised New York) seem to go on forever, and the ships docking in the harbour appear to be all keel.

The plot concerns Madame Sousa's search for her grandson, Champion, who has been abducted by square-shouldered French Mafia types while competing in the Tour de France. Madame Sousa--a tiny woman with one hugely built-up shoe--has been acting as his trainer and mechanic, and has a neat way of trueing up his bent wheels using only a spanner, a tuning fork, and a small metal model of the Eiffel Tower. She pursues his captors across the Atlantic with Champion's dog Bruno, and ends up staying with the 'Belleville Triplets'--a 1930s cabaret act, who have fallen on hard times. Such hard times that they live on frogs and tadpoles which they catch in the marshes.

There is almost no dialogue in the film, but the characters are superb. Bruno in particular is brilliantly done. I don't think that I've ever seen a film with a more realistic portrayal of a dog, with all his psychological problems and simple desires. After an unfortunate puppyhood accident involving his tail and a toy train, Bruno has an abiding and fierce hatred of trains. He lumbers punctually up the stairs to bark at the passing trains (Madame Sousa's house is right next to a viaduct), and has surreal black-and-white dreams about riding on Stephenson's Rocket. When he is given a handkerchief of Champion's to sniff so that he can pick up the scent, the images that go through his mind are of Champion, closely connected to food.

The film is full of brilliant slapstick, subtle little sight gags, and surreal moments. Thankfully, the makers also don't underestimate the concentration span of the audience. Many of the jokes take a long time to play out, maturing like fine wine, but that makes the punch line--when it comes--even more hilarious. It made me realise how rushed most comedy films usually are, with too many quick-fire gags crammed in, so that you don't get time to appreciate them. There are many nicely barbed moments in the film--no Disney singing bluebirds here, just exploding frogs, and tap shoes eating their owner. The climactic car chase at the end--between stretch 2CVs and a weird contraption made out of wood, three bicycles and a film projector--is a complete hoot. Look out for some digs at the lack of road-worthiness of the 2CV. If you go and see it, I guarantee that you'll be humming the Belleville Triplet's big swing number for days afterwards.