'..a film that catches your breath and makes you believe in magic again'.
a year that has been full of major disappointments in the cinema
Matrix Reloaded, Bad Boys 2, anything starring Ben Affleck, the
risible Core the smug le divorce, and possibly
worse to come I hear, (Star Wars in particular) the only hope all
year has been the Indies. Flower and Garnet for example, a small
beautifully crafted Canadian feature, the quirky Neil LaBute helmed
The Shape of Things, Whale Rider from New Zealand, La
Comunidad from Spain, Laurel Canyon by Lisa Cholodenko. I find that
in reviewing the year so far that three films stand out for me and
all three, by some curious twist of fate turn out to be animated
features. This hasnt happened probably since I was five years
Animatrix: Second Renaissance
was everything that The Matrix Reloaded was not. Lucid, exciting,
coherent and above all illuminating.
You need to see these series of animated stories to get the background
to the story and you will find yourself puzzled as to why the actual
live action film isnt as exciting as Peter Chungs Matriculated
section for example, or Kids Story by Shinichiro Watanabe.
Many hundreds of Japanese animators and computer graphics people
worked on this and it is very advanced anime. Watch it before Part
Three of the real action film comes out in November 03.
Image from 'Beyond' perhaps the most spiritual seqment in the collection.
produced by Yasuyoshi Tokuma, written by Havao Miyazaki, who also directed,
is another Japanese animated film well deserved of its Oscar
this year. Completely different in style and approach to the Animatrix,
it is a kids movie, but tells a dark, ghostly tale that is at
once fantastic and thrilling to watch. The beasts and ghosts are very
Japanese and that too makes it stands out. Its bringing Japanese
culture, its fears and folklore into our western realm and informs
our world. It is also quite often hilarious as giant babies are turned
into pink mice carried around by an enormous fly. Dont take the
kids, go yourself and just enjoy it on an adult level.
Now at last we have Belleville
Rendez-vous and this is an astonishing work indeed.
An animated feature (a Belgian, French, Canadian collaboration)
with virtually no dialogue and full eccentric characters such as
the old ladies (The Triplets of Belleville) who use refrigerators,
vacuum cleaners and newspapers for syncopation. No sex, no extreme
violence, but totally captivating throughout full of the kind of
eccentric ideas that made Junot's 'City Of Lost Children' or 'Delicatessen'
Directed by Sylvain Chomet with the voices of Jean-Claude
Donda, Michel Robin and Monica Viegas it is the most exhilarating
work of art in animation in ten years.
two-dimensional film as well as CGI, the mix of images can be crude
one minute and just extraordinarily stunning the next. It is dark, whimsical
and often makes you laugh with pure astonishment. It is simply breathtaking,
a work of genius.
The story is simple in essence. Champion is a young boy adopted by his
grandmother (Madame De Souza) but is ever morose and hard to please.
She buys him things but nothing makes him happy in their strange home
on the outskirts of the City. She buys him a puppy, Bruno, but even
that doesnt work until she discovers hes excited by the
Tour de France and bicycles.
goes forward and the city has marched forward and engulfed them,
the overhead railway swamping the house and tilting it sideways.
The boy, Champ, has grown up and is a Tour De France rider, trained
by a resolute Grandma with a lethal whistle. The Dog keeps its
appointment with the trains, barking at everyone and Champ comes
home exhausted every night to be massaged and pummelled with the
aide of a vacuum cleaner and lawnmower by his devoted Grandma.
The dog Bruno, is a wonderful character in itself, so expressive,
so well observed.
Everything is in the details, Grandma's glasses that always slip,
the shaking house that signals another train going by.
Ticking clocks, odd mechanical devices.
the Tour De France, Champ is kidnapped along with two other riders by
the dastardly French mafia. (The film is always true to detail, they
are taken on the hillside of Mount Ventoux where sweeper vans often
pick up distressed riders.) He is taken by ship to a City called Belleville,
which would have been New York if the French had stuck it out there
instead of selling it off (See Louisiana.)
The poignant moment when his Grandma and Bruno discover that Champ is
on that ship is wonderful. She rents a pedalo and takes off after the
ocean liner. The sight of Grandma and dog on the rolling ocean in the
wake of the liner is just amazing pure cinema. You almost want
to cry. Madame de Souza silent determination is a lesson for us all.
This is a fantastic America, where everyone is grossly fat. To be fair,
the French dont come off well either with their wine soaked noses
and strange physical shapes. The Citroen deux cheveau limos are a wonderful
joke too. Everything about this film is lavish and enriching. When Grandma
and Bruno arrive exhausted in Belleville, they have no idea where there
Champ is, but they are befriended by The Belleville Triplets, the triplet
singing and percussion act from the 1930s (who introduced the
film with their famous number when young.) They are now cranky old dears
living in a tenement flat. The sight of one of the old ladies going
fishing for frogs with explosives is just hysterical. The music they
make, (now with Grandma in the act on bicycle wheel is amazing.)
Almost any frame is a work of art and it is always stunning to look
at with small precise details that you would love to see again. The
rhythms and timing make one forget there is virtually no dialogue in
the 78 minutes of screentime. This is an astonishing work, a genuine
labour of love that rewards in many ways. It is the most satisfying
animation experience I can remember. This is a film that catches your
breath and makes you believe in magic again.
Dont wait for the DVD,or hope to see at 3am on some cable channel,
try to see it now in a cinema in London or elsewhere. If you know the
programmer of the local Art House in your city, get them to book it.
Show Belleville Rendezvous and they will come. Tell the
local cycle club, there's one nights audience for a start.
*Showing in London this October 2003 Odeon Covent Garden - Shaftesbury
© Sam North October 5th 2003
all rights reserved