Media Review – The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville 

Directed by Sylvain Chomet

2003

Well, that was….unexpected. Almost understated, in the sense that no one makes a statement throughout the movie, barring the beginning and the very end. Being an American raised on Disney animation, I’m used to hearing my animated characters babbling a mile a minute. It took me a while to accept the non-verbal qualities of these characters, who are anything but silent. The soundtrack is brilliant, adding an individuality to both characters and locations. But beyond formalism, beyond its stunning good looks, what’s the heart of this very deliberate work?

I’m mostly stricken by the movie’s very passionate portrait of aged womanhood. Old women in this cinematic world are protectors, strong, indefatigable, entertaining and unique. They are vital, full of life, and that’s why I said I was stricken. The contrast between how I view age and how Grandmother Souza and the Triplets express their age…..it’s the difference between quiet, colorless institutional walls and the heat and sound of the club where the Triplets perform. Can any of us imagine our grandparents and great-grandparents performing in a sleazy club….?

How about hunting for their dinner every night? Throwing explosives? Biking uphill? Or the most impossible of all, enjoying every minute of everything?

Ebert says,”Most animated features have an almost grotesque desire to be loved. This one doesn’t seem to care. It creates a world of selfishness, cruelty, corruption and futility — but it’s not serious about this world and it doesn’t want to attack it or improve upon it. It simply wants to sweep us up in its dark comic vision.”

Did we watch the same movie? Of course the film doesn’t want to be loved; when you’re old, you get your priorities straight. And if it is nothing else, Triplets is aggressively old. It does the unthinkable: equates female age with vigor, and youthful manhood with passivity.
Champion, the grandson, cannot do anything for himself, ever. He has to wait to be rescued by Souza, his grandmamma. Poor, horse-faced boy.
The film indicates to us that her grandson is Souza’s prized possession, exactly like a pure-blooded racehorse. He has no agency of his own. In fact, the men in this world are either passive like Champion or violent like the mobster villain. Cynical, right, but perhaps that’s how age always views youth? The young need direction, or they’ll grow into petty thugs…
I do agree with Ebert on one thing; these women Chomet has created are ferocious. And I don’t want them any other way. Willfulness, determination, and energy….for every tooth lost, another cackle and another song! That’s one vision of aging, and it is beautiful.
(Time to break your faith in humanity. Who did this film lose the Academy Award to? Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Ufff! Thank you, and good night.)