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  Belleville Rendez-vous Slow And Steady Wins The Race
Year: 2003
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Stars: Michele Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Michel Robin, Monica Viegas
Genre: Comedy, Animated, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 4 votes)
Review: An old grandmother, Madame Souza, has looked after her grandson since childhood. She bought him a puppy as a present, and later a tricycle, which led to his interest in cycling. Now grown up, he is being intensively trained by his grandmother for the Tour De France, but when the event arrives, things don't go according to plan. Someone is sabotaging the riders for their own nefarious reasons, and the grandson is one of three cyclists kidnapped. It's up to the grandmother and the now-aged dog to track him down...

Scripted by animator Sylvain Chomet, Belleville Rendezvous opens with black and white footage of a concert, led by the singing of three Andrews Sisters-style triplets. At once, you know this won't be an ordinary cartoon, as a Josephine Baker figure is pounced upon by the male members of the audience, transformed into apes, for the bananas on her skirt, and a Fred Astaire-style tap dancer is eaten by his own shoes. Then this nostalgic exercise, also a reference point to early animation, is shown to be an old film being watched on television, and the real story gets underway.

Richly caricatured, the film is peopled by characters who are either too fat or too thin, too tall or too short. The grandmother bears a striking resemblance to Ronnie Corbett, only with one leg shorter than the other, corrected by a built up shoe. The grandson is skinny, but with hugely muscular legs due to his exercise regime. Bruno, the loyal, train-hating dog is a beige lump supported by spindly legs. The evil agents of the Mafia are rectangles of black, with heads, hands and feet added almost as an afterthought.

The grandson is taken over the sea to the city of Belleville, which seems to be an exaggerated mockery of New York City, with towering skyscrapers, oversize citizens and burger bars. What makes the film such a treat is perhaps that it's all as unexpected as its heroine, who shows great ingenuity in, for example, hiring a pedalo to chase after the ship that her grandson is being transported on - and unlikely as it sounds, she succeeds navigating the waves. That alone makes her worth cheering for.

You could argue that the film loses its way as Madame Souza loses her way in Belleville, but she eventually joins forces with the now elderly triplets we saw at the start. There may be a sly dig at the notion that you're nobody unless you have money, but this is made special by it endless innovation. Packed to bursting with bizarre or enchanting details, like the household instruments or the passing whale, Belleville Rendezvous may not be laugh out loud funny, but it's consistently, weirdly entertaining, and masterfully drawn. But what does Chomet have against frogs?! Music by Benoit Charest.

Aka: Les Triplettes de Belleville
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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