“The Triplets of Belleville,” a surreal animated romp from French director Sylvain Chomet, only lasts 82 minutes, but every scene brings beautiful but harsh images together with a stunning soundtrack. Far from the crystal clear waters of Finding Nemo, “Triplets” uses 2-D animation to create a world overrun with intricate shapes, sharp angles and fascinating characters of varying height and width. The end result is a stunning and sublime meditation on loyalty and sacrifice.
Going into detail concerning the plot would fail to do the film justice. In short, the simple story revolves around the kidnapping of Champion, a cyclist competing in the Tour de France. The man’s grandmother, along with the family dog named Bruno, follow the kidnapper’s trail to Belleville, a megalopolis reminiscent of New York. In the dark caverns of this frantic environment, the grandmother enlists the help of three elderly women, triplets who sing at a local jazz club, to save her grandson from the clutches of evil slave traders.
To call this film bizarre would be an understatement. First off, the story has little dialogue – maybe a couple of lines worth. Also, each scene is filled with the sorts of urban landscapes that bend and twist in entirely unnatural ways. Street corners and buildings seem to be folding under some unseen pressure. Every character has vastly different proportions, with some minutely small and others excessively overweight. Champion’s features are extreme, his calves gigantic and his torso as thin as a slice of cheese. His grandmother, a fierce competitor, is small in stature but strong as an ox. Bruno the dog, with his large body and skinny legs, might be the most fascinating character of them all. Haunted by dreams of passing trains, his devotion remains instinctual throughout the film, managing to give hope in every situation.
“The Triplets of Belleville” uses this combination of physical abstraction in the environment and human form to compliment the waves of everyday sounds filling every scene. Dogs barking, trains rushing by, traffic in a city center and whistles are just some of the many crucial sounds that develop characters and drive the film toward a truly fantastic conclusion. Equally important is the use of music in the film – the triplets have a variety act they perform – including outbursts that erupt with precision and harmony. These musical interludes are filled with pulpy jazz riffs and the haunting voices of the triplets, women whose lives have ironically been made and crushed by their voices.
“The Triplets of Belleville” has received much deserved attention from film festivals around the world and its release in Santa Barbara is a pleasant surprise. Hopefully people will venture into the shadowy depths of the Fiesta Five Theater on State Street to catch this film before it leaves town. Its off-kilter style takes some getting used to, but is part of what makes the film so special. By telling a story with almost no dialogue and equal emphasis placed on sound and visuals, the filmmakers manage to create an entirely diverse cinematic specimen, evolving like a dream world never satisfied with structure or finality.