THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (Sylvain Chomet , 2003)

Feverishly inventive, exhaustingly visually detailed, Les triplettes de Belleville more convincingly projects a parallel universe than The Matrix (Andy and Larry Wachowski, 1999). Its zaniness and bizarre humors suggest Strindberg’s expressionism, Ionesco, the Marx Brothers and Jacques Tati. Its tendency toward abstraction perhaps makes it a Cubist comedy. Writer-director Sylvain Chomet lays claim to a brilliant feature-length animated cartoon.
     The triplets of the title are singing sisters—a vaudeville act from the time of black-and-white cartoons. Once they shared the stage with two Americans-of-the-World, Josephine Baker and Fred Astaire, the latter of whom was ravenously devoured onstage not by Ginger Rogers’s feathery dress but by his own dancing shoes, which dragged off his remains, mostly his indigestible head. I bet the singing trio knew Betty Boop.
     A lifetime later, in a brave new world of color (except for the black-and-white dreams of her grandson Champion’s dog, Bruno), Madame Souza meets the triplets, now elderly, in Belleville after she has crossed the sea in a water trike—a fabulous passage attuned to Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor—in search of her bicycling grandson, who has been kidnapped off the Tour de Paris by twin thugs. Prior to the resolution of the action and the restoration of family harmony, Mme Souza dines with the sisters, who treat her to their specialty, fresh frog soup. Memorably, one wet ribbon of a leg drips over the edge of a bowl.
     Much of the dialogueless action is frenzied; the film is full of intricate activity. Computer-generated imagery is slipped into the meticulously hand-drawn animation. Chomet fittingly dedicates his lovingly “retro” film to his parents.
     Chomet’s principal satirical target is prodigious consumerism; but Chomet is, of course, ambivalent. Delightfully, the frog soup pinches the contrary: a back-to-basics.


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