Therefore a French animation about a child cyclist turned obsessive tour de France athlete (think Lance Armstrong with a full complement of testicles but without the winning charm); his stumpy Grandmother cum trainer; and his rotund train-fixated dog, should set alarm bells ringing. Add a gaggle of octogenarian triplets whose act is somewhere between the Beverly Sisters meets Stomp. Director Chomet’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach also includes the French mafia and a mouselike Italian factotum … It’s an approach that is so wilfully idiosyncratic that it should be doomed to failure.
Belleville Rendezvouz is a triumph on pretty much every level, managing to be both laugh-out-loud funny, strangely moving and wonderfully inventive. The character animation is wonderfully expressive (a definite plus in a film that is almost dialogue free) and the flights of visual imagination are something to behold. Bruno the portly hound is one of the great dogs of cinema, perfectly capturing the thought processes of a real dog in his routines, be it: wearily walking up the stairs to bark at the trains passing at regular intervals; the expectant whine of being fed from the table or the ability to try and sleep in spaces his size makes inappropriate; we even get a Bruno dream sequence, the pairing between dog and Madame Souza is one of cinema’s great double acts.
It is the little details, the realistic behaviours in surreal situations that makes Belleville so wonderfully inventive. The way in which Bruno is used as a literal spare wheel for Madame Souza’s van or the small bits of business with other competitors is laugh out loud funny. But there is also space for a beautifully animated pedalo-versus-boat chase that is the equal of the work of Miyazaki for its beauty and emotional pull. This may be comic in register but there is a charming sadness to Souza and her dogged determination to find her kidnapped son.
The sound design is a delight, the noises of the city and the use of music to represent character are all inspired, in a film that is minimal in dialogue these touches really do come to the fore. The representation of Belleville, a bustling amalgamation of Paris and New York, has the genuinely terrifying quality that a big city can have, all noise, bustle and hardness, but also excitement, glamour and danger. Chomet imbues his film with a sense of childlike wonder but is never childish. Children may revel in the silent comedy routines but there is an underlying hardness that may be a little difficult for younger children to enjoy, the reasons for the kidnapping of Champion may require some explaining. The triplets of Belleville have an interesting and fun way of procuring their dinner using a hand grenade but for all the fun on show there is the toughness of a hardscrabble existence as if they have been imported from Gray Gardens.
This new release comes with a welcome set of extras that are well worth visiting. There is a commentary on three of the scenes within the movie and a half hour documentary worthy of your time. There is also and interview with the Director and Production Designer. Not exhaustive but a little in the way of filler.
If you have any interest in animation this is a must see, come to think of it if you are a sentient mammal of any description this is a must see. A film so charming it could turn Nigel Farage into a rabid Europhile. A welcome reissue and one of the best home releases of the year.
Review by Jason Abbey
Belleville Rendezvous is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.