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July 29, 2011

Belleville Rendezvous – A Whacky but Enchanting Tale

by Val Reynolds
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Belleville Rendezvous, original cover

Belleville Rendez-Vous  is an animated feature film available on video.  What little dialogue there is, is in French in this French/Belgian/Canadian co-production

Watching it is quite an extraordinary experience because it is like no other commercially successful animated film.

The storyline is very basic: a lonely young boy, Champion, lives with his caring, club-footed grandmother, Mme Souza, who first of all gives him a young puppy, Bruno, and then a tricycle.

Years pass (in a flash) and suddenly we find that Champion has lived up to his name and is a front rider in the annual bicycle race, the Tour de France. What follows is a breathtaking adventure as Champion is kidnapped by ‘men in black’ and Mme Souza and Bruno give chase and find themselves in an urban sprawl that just might be Manhattan. They are aided by the Triplettes de Belleville, a trio of ageing female singers à la Andrews Sisters and against all odds, of course, they rescue him – a real triumph for the little guys.

But a jumble of words tumble out when trying to describe this film: anarchic, grotesque, warped, expressionistic, surreal … And more than one reviewer has read a deeper meaning into the film by declaring it decidedly anti-American. Well, perhaps.

The inhabitants of Belleville are shown largely to be overweight, over-helpful people and the city itself is one of hectic traffic chaos.  But the singing sisters, the good guys, are also are given a most bizarre characteristic, that of catching frogs and eating them stewed and kebabbed – the whole frog that is, not just the legs!  So maybe looking for a deeper meaning should be given a miss and the film should just be enjoyed for what it is, an extraordinary experience from start to finish. I confess that when it was first released in cinemas I gave it a miss as I’m not a lover of cartoons.  But having been persuaded to watch the video I’ve seen the error of my ways.  Try to catch this one if you can – it’s unlikely you’ll ever see anything quite like it again!

Belleville-Rendezvous is available on video at Amazon

Jeannette Nelson A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

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