As an animation fan, this is a big one for me. If I remember correctly, The Triplets of Bellville (released as Bellville Rendezvous in the UK) first came into my field of vision in 2005 when it placed 76th in channel 4’s 100 Greatest Cartoons. Since then, I’ve been itching to see it but somehow have never got around to it. I’ve even seen Chomet’s follow up animation L’Illusionniste (The Illusionist) and have owned Bellville for a few years now. What gives, brain?
So, finally I decided it was time. I turned the lights off, sat down and watched an iconic piece of animation.
The first thing to note is that there’s very little dialogue in Bellville. I don’t know why this surprised me since L’Illusionniste was the same. It’s something I have mixed feelings about. I love the simplicity of just letting the art speak for itself and by being essentially a silent film, Bellville becomes more accessible for a global audience. I also love that the actions aren’t overly mime-y, though the characters themselves are quite caricature but we’ll get to that. But I do feel like I missed the dialogue. Clearly I was desperate for subtitles.
I remember thinking that the silent nature of L’Illusionniste made it much more poetic due to the language barrier between the characters which I suppose also exists here but it doesn’t feel the same. Of course the music fills the void wonderfully and creatively and even takes place of dialogue in this memorable scene.
Now what drew me to the film originally was the style of animation. I think I was originally swayed by the scenes in the opening – the back and white variety show – which is reminiscent of animations like Betty Boop, not just for being back and white animation but for the use of songs. But this only takes up a short section of the film. The rest of the film is dark and grubby, real artistic if sometimes insane – Champion’s cycling legs are just a little bit terrifying – but it certainly provides for some amusing caricature shapes; from the mousey worker and broad shouldered mobsters to the waiter bending backwards to serve you best he can.
Everyone’s favourite scene appears to be the trip over the sea when the music changes from the thematic jazz to dramatic classical. It is certainly a stunning scene: the large ocean liner juts out of the ocean as Madame Souza and faithful dog, Bruno, travel close behind on a small paddle boat until, suddenly, a treacherous wave threatens the safety of the duo. Whether it’s my favourite scene, I’m not too sure yet.
I also find it interesting how I’m always surprised to find the film was made in 2003. It looks so much older. Not in a bad way, more nostalgic. Especially when you consider Bellville lost the Oscar to Finding Nemo. Most of the digital technology that brought Bellville to life is hidden under the gorgeous hand drawn aesthetic with only a few scenes shoving the technology in your face.
The dog’s dream sequences involving riding a train of sorts – his ultimate nemesis apparently – seem almost unfinished, not quite as refined as the technology would allow nor as artistically free as the rest of the film. Again, while I can’t say I disliked this technique and I can defend it quickly through it’s position as the dog’s dream, it definitely seems out of sorts. Though undoubtedly provided interesting imagery which is both in contrast to the film and yet somehow fitting.
But what is the effect of watching the film now? I may not have seen the film until recently, but I can’t deny I was influence to play the Professor Layton games due to the similar aesthetic design. For ages I was convinced the first game was set in France instead of a small English town. This leads to perhaps my favourite thing about watching films out of chronological order. While Lee previously found his meme knowledge enlightened by finally watching American Psycho, I often find myself making pop culture references when watching older films. It certainly provides some hilarious moments in a bizarre unintentional retrospective way.
After everything, I can only think Les Triplettes de Bellville could use a second or perhaps third viewing with less confusion over expectations for me to truly enjoy it. I’m certainly glad I finally conquered the film and feel less guilty when looking at my film shelf. For any other animation fans out there, this is definitely worth a look.