Pardon the French

Culture | Movie Review

Issue: "Iraq: The image war," May 22, 2004

The Triplets of Belleville was released in select theaters last year to nearly universal critical acclaim, capped by Oscar nominations for Best Original Song and Best Animated Film. Now on DVD, it's easy to see why: This weird but creative cartoon is unlike anything else. It's in French, with scattered English subtitles, but is nearly wordless, relying on rhythm, music, and spectacular (if often grotesque) imagery.

It would be nice to be able to recommend Triplets for family viewing, but the film (rated PG-13 for sensuality, violence, and crude humor) contains inappropriate content. Not over the top at all by the standards of the rating, it still includes elements that quickly disqualify it, including a bare-breasted Josephine Baker dancing in an early scene, scattered crude humor and gestures, and some jolting violence. It's also too surreally grotesque for younger sensibilities.

Too bad, because the film is otherwise enthralling. Champion is an overweight, aimless orphan until he is given a tricycle; his grandmother seizes on his love for cycling and, as his trainer, pushes him with a single-minded drive as they prepare for the Tour de France. But when the race finally comes, sinister mobsters kidnap Champion and ship him off to Belleville, an intimidating metropolis.

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Madame Souza and Champion's dog, Bruno, chase after him. Once in Belleville, the disadvantaged team meets up with the title singing trio, who aid Madame Souza in the rescue of her grandson.

The visceral pleasures of Triplets come from intricately drawn and choreographed scenes. One remarkable sequence shows Madame Souza and Bruno pursuing an ocean liner in a pontoon paddle boat. Their journey is majestically set to the overture from Mozart's C-Minor Mass.


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