THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, produced by Didier Brunner and Viviane Vanfleteren. 78 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (January 23). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 73. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
A peculiar by-product of pixar's success is that the American animation studio honchos keep thinking that success depends on aping reality as closely as possible. It never seems to occur to them that reality is the least that animation can offer.
Working out of a wilder animation tradition, Sylvain Chomet in The Triplets Of Belleville suggests the spirit of Tex Avery inhabiting Jean-Pierre Jeunet in his Delicatessen period.
A French-Belgian-English-Canadian production, Triplets begins with black-and-white images from a 30s nightclub: Fred Astaire is eaten by his own furious shoes, Django Reinhardt plays guitar with his feet, Josephine Baker wiggles seductively, and a trio of rail-thin singers in cloche hats perform a nonsense song so catchy that you won't be able to get it out of your head for hours after leaving the theatre.
Pull back from this and it turns out that it's really the late 50s and we're watching these events on television with a sad-eyed French child, his grandmother and their dog. The child, named Champion, decides he wants to win the Tour de France and grows into a young man with massive thighs and calves and a DeGaulle-like nose. His grandmother trains him and their ever-expanding dog, who lives to bark at the new elevated train by the window.
There's a lot more plot, involving gangsters, kidnapping, three now aging singers who live on a diet of frogs. But even more than narrative, Triplets provides a relentlessly advancing series of visual gags on scale, perspective and perception - ships that tower like skyscrapers, gangsters reduced to iconic blocks of blackness.
I've heard Triplets described as repetitive, but it's not repetitive so much as it's a series of variations on themes. Which describes both Bach and Roadrunner cartoons.
At the Chicago Film Festival in October, some of my colleagues on the FIPRESCI jury actually wanted to honour Pieces Of April. I spent about half an hour presenting my case that our prize should go to Triplets on the grounds that it was 78 minutes of astonishing cinematic inventiveness, and funny, and it all came out of one guy's head. And it has a lot more fun with cultural stereotypes than Pieces Of April, which is full of them. In the end, Iranian film Talaye Sorkh (Crimson Gold) won the prize.