If any of you missed the excellent Belleville Rendezvous over Christmas, you should be kicking yourselves with frustration at having missed the only film worth watching during the seasonal excess. Fear not, for you have a chance to redeem yourselves, as the Cinema Society has set up one of its screenings for anybody who wants to see this piece of fascinating, funny, and sometimes simply surreal piece of French animation.
The story starts as a rotund infant obsessed with the Tour de France is honed into a professional cyclist by his devoted grandmother. Simply named ‘Champion’ he eventually reaches the standards of a prize-winning competitor (cue subtle racehorse sounds in the background) and duly starts punishing his leg muscles in the hills of the Tour. All is not well, however, as he disappears, taken to the warped metropolis of Belleville – a sometimes-grotesque caricature of New York City.
As the plot escalates from this point, the inventiveness and energy of the film grows relentlessly with it. Director Sylvain Chomet appears to faultlessly interweave more familiar cartoon-like elements with somewhat darker burlesques, while always maintaining a highly entertaining strain of slapstick throughout. Crucially, while he dips into high surrealism (as Bruno the lethargic dog (right) will reveal) and explores the absurd, the film never feels inaccessible and is genuinely funny, whether roaming around inside a canine’s head, or going frog hunting in a city wasteland.
Perhaps this is due to the distinct lack of any dialogue, or actually any speech at all. In fact, we do not need any. All of the effort by Chamet and his team has gone into visual comedy – so much that I was almost fooled into thinking that the characters were talking. The expressions, the sound effects, the caricaturing and the general feel of the film are expressive enough. So, very little, if anything, has been lost in translation. Belleville Rendezvous is something very rare indeed – it can immediately be appreciated by any who watches it, and you can share the director’s intentions without worrying about any nuances in the script.
More importantly, Belleville Rendezvous is utterly different from anything you will have seen from American animators in the past few years. Even the mighty Pixar’s efforts seem a little formulaic compared to it – and though Belleville Rendezvous vaguely shares Pixar’s liking for large-scale ‘lost and found’ themes, any similarity ends there. This is a truly original film, as unsentimental as it is affecting, and as humorous as it is unsettling. Go and watch it on the big screen in the physics block. You have but one chance.