take that, america!

The Triplets of Belleville exists on some imaginary hyperbolic scale where insanity and genius teeter at opposite ends of the spectrum but closer to each other than either is to the midpoint. I really can't say I loved it. But I can say it was a 'good' movie--if by 'good' you mean something that was visually stunning, beautiful in its legend-fashioning story, and something that challenged you intellectually as well as charged you emotionally. At least it blew the doors off of Nemo (which I also saw recently). Throughout, I was reminded both of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animation (and subject matter) and of the Grimm fairy tales--gory and vivid and somehow not as much 'fairy' as 'tale'. The whole time, I was struck by the negative portrayal of unadulterated progress, America/NYC (Belleville), and dehumanizing--at times criminal--capitalism. In the movie, unabated progress led to further and further isolation, working against love and relationships. France was itself subject to the destructive and graying development, but Manhattan (a.k.a. Belleville) was the dystopia of massive structures, roaring cars, unthinking automation, and grotesquely obese, essentially bovine Americans. The two main characters, Grandma Souza and Bruno the dog confront the technopoly in opposite but equally tenacious ways: the old woman silently plods through each scene, never truly worried, never letting up the search for her grandson, the kidnaped Tour de France bicyclist. Bruno barks insistently at each passing train, follows his nose to his master, wins by affection and persistence more than brains. Their accomplices are the formerly famous vaudevillian Triplets--the only other thin people in Belleville--who, while doting and friendly are markedly backwards. Notably, they subsist by eating frogs caught in a nearby swamp--not coincidentally, "frog" being a derogatory term for the French. Also noteworthy is the lack of any positive male characters in the movie. You have on the one hand Champion, the hapless, insipid biker who gets captured. On the other hand, you have the all-male French mafia (united under the telling "In Vino Veritas") and a clip right at the beginning of the movie of well-to-do men becoming monkeys and chasing down a scantily clad African stage performer. There isn't a united theme, per se, but there are subtile and not so subtile undercurrents of message running through, inviting a wide variety of interpretations about the meaning of the movie. The lack of dialogue is distracting at first but then becomes hugely effective in forcing us to deal with the awkwardness and unfamiliarity of this broken, impoverished French family and their elderly sidekicks. If there is a directed message, it might be that the old ways--the European foundation of both France and the United States (as symbolized in the corpulent Statue of Liberty)--has been eroded and marginalized by all this so-called progress. The tension obvious throughout the movie--we know that the poor French people are not going to be able to defeat the strange, inhospitable dangers of Belleville or the Franco-American criminal element that kidnaps Champion (perhaps himself a personification of the French obsession with bicycle races, now hijacked by the American sports industry)--is unresolved by the end of the movie. The audience is left with a bittersweet taste. The characters themselves, animated or not, are not ageless myths. They die. They win the battle but lose the war against the hegemonic consumer-state intent on telling us what our dreams are and then selling them to us at ever increasing, more frantic rates. And it is hinted at--though not explicitly stated--that even our patriotism is not to a national identity as much as it is a product of this consumer-state mentality (e.g., "Freedom" Fries). To writer/director Sylvain Chomet, we American pig-dogs must say touche!


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