Shaken and Stirred
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We finally made it down to see THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE last evening, and I thought it was wonderful. It's like the longest, best short ever made if that makes any sense -- the short you would most have wanted to see more of stretched out a little so you can, in a kooky, ephemeral way. It's not a perfect film, but it's so charmingly just what it is that it doesn't have to be.

First, I want to refer anyone who's yet to see the movie or is interested in an extremely sharp take on it go over and read the Cinetrix's thoughts on it over at pullquote. She synopsizes the plot (without giving anything spoiling away) much better than I could. Basically, it's the story of a French boy and his grandmother and his dog -- Champion, Madame Souza and Bruno. Oh, and bicycling (of which more to come). When Champion is kidnapped, Madame Souza and Bruno pursue him to Belleville, a hodge-podge metropolis, where they team up with the singing Triplets of Belleville who now make music on ordinary household items.

Really, though, I found myself thinking it was Bruno's story all the way through. (One reason I will not be linking to the otherwise sane review in the Village Voice is that they referred to Bruno as obnoxious -- the nerve!) As the Cinetrix says in her post:

Instead, I want to talk about Chomet's masterstroke: Bruno the dog. He's the best animated pooch since the long-suffering Max. Like most dogs, Bruno has what I've always called "doggie dreams." You know, those twitches and whimpers that make humans smile indulgently at a sleeping dog and say "He must be dreaming of chasing a rabbit." Here's the thing: Chomet shows us what Bruno is dreaming about, and it's every bit as banal and fantastic as our own nighttime voyages.

The dog dream sequences are fantastic and I couldn't agree more -- Bruno is instantly one of my favorite movie dogs ever, not least because he vaguely reminded us of George. The way they use sound to make him genuinely dog is amazing -- any dog owner will recognize the breathing and snorting and sighing and all perfectly choreographed to the right motion or sequence of events.

And now on to the bicycling! Champion wants to be a bicyclist and Madame Souza coaches him all the way to the Tour de France. And professional bicycling, especially the Tour, is the perfect fit for the movie. I would tell anyone who sees this film and marvels at those mountaintop crowd scenes -- it is JUST LIKE THAT. The manic quality of the scene, the cyclists nigh unto death but staying on their bikes. You should be watching it. The Tour never won me over until this year, but it didn't take long once I started paying attention because it's a sport that is so different than the way we're even taught to think about sport in America. End Tour de France commercial, but suffice to say there was much excitement at the biking bits and I had to physically restrain Mr. Rowe from clapping a couple of times.

The filmmaker Sylvain Chomet in a BBC interview on why bicycling:

"I've always liked the movement of cycling. It's the circular motion of the bicycle, and the shape of the cyclists themselves - especially back in the days when they'd be incredibly spindly with amazingly overdeveloped leg muscles. They're fascinating characters: very nice, timid and shy people. But they often don't look like they're enjoying the race. I don't think I've ever seen a cyclist looking happy, even when they've won. I've also always thought it was strange that the Tour De France starts and ends at the same point. It's like they're suffering all this hardship, but not actually getting anywhere as a result."

The look of the film and the jauntiness of its pace are perhaps the best things though. I found the 2D animation dreamlike, crisp and alive all at once. The music is quite wonderful too, and matches the vibe -- maybe even creates the vibe. And it's a silent film that manages not to be silent -- there is almost no dialogue (except for Bruno the Dog's show-stealing barking fits) and yet, never once did I miss it. Letting the music and other sound do the talking was a brilliant choice on the part of the filmmakers because it forces us into the world of the movie, which just feels oddly right without talking. This truly is visual storytelling of the highest order -- though the music is definitely used to round out the experience. I also imagine the lack of subtitles is very appealing to people and they certainly would have been unwelcome here. It would have been a shame to miss the light-soaked frames trying to read dialogue.

I can't wait to see the musical number at the Oscars. At any rate, I'll stop going on -- this movie is something you should all drag yourselves out to see. It's just fascinating to see how many odd little decisions combine to work. And to see an animated movie made for adults that still has this much whimsy in it. Eat your heart out, Roger Rabbit.

earworm: "Les Triplettes de Belleville"

rec: going to read the entry at pullquote

namecheck: Bruno the Dog

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