The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Triplets of Belleville.
French whimsy goes through the looking glass in this imaginatively offbeat animated wonder by animator Sylvain Chomet. A boy named Champion trains relentlessly for the Tour de France with the help of his diminutive and club-footed grandmother, Madame Souza, and their overweight dog, Bruno. When race day arrives, Champion and a few of his fellow racers are kidnapped by a pair of square-shouldered henchmen and taken across the ocean to thronging Belleville where they are forced to pedal as part of an illicit gambling operation. Bruno and Mme Souza follow to save their boy and find unlikely help from the renowned Triplets of Belleville, a trio of eccentric music hall stars turned elderly experimental musicians. Filled with twisted imagery and proceeding with the measured pace of a dream, The Triplets of Belleville is a strange, loving, and very French tribute to silent comedy and to bygone eras of traditional animation.
New 4K digital master, approved by director Sylvain Chomet, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New audio commentary with Sylvain Chomet
New conversation between Chomet and animator Bill Plympton
The Making of The Triplets of Belleville, a 36-minute documentary discussing the film’s production
The Cartoon According to Sylvain Chomet, a brief discussion with the director on designing his characters
Before The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), Sylvain Chomet made the award-winning The Old Lady and the Pigeons (La Vieille Dame et les pigeons, 1997). The animated short features an impoverished and starving gendarme who dresses up like a giant pigeon in order to be fed by an old woman (and that barely scratches the surface of how hilariously bizarre the short gets). Chomet was inspired to make a film of his own after seeing Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and set upon his production after pitching the concept to Didier Brunner of the French animation studio Les Armateurs. Backgrounds were designed by Chomet’s comic book collaborator Nicolas de Crécy, although the two would later fall out over Crécy’s view that Chomet improperly copped his style for the designs of The Triplets of Belleville. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is silently comic and strangely surreal and establishes many of Chomet’s characteristic styles and themes, making it an easy access point to Chomet’s limited filmography. It is also a quick 24-minute scratch for those of us still itching to see his next film, The ThousandMiles, a Fellini-inspired story about the world’s most beautiful road race, Italy’s Mille Miglia.
The final day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival opened with Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019), a fictionalized portrait of Canada’s weirdest, longest-serving, and middlest-of-the-road Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The film side-steps Mackenzie King’s secret spiritualism and instead creates a broader, stranger fantasy of Canada at the dawn of a new era. Rankin’s prerecorded introduction for the film described it as “nightmarishly Canadian” and his words were apt. The Twentieth Century is an Eraserhead/Isle of Dogs-esque imagining of Canadian history and culture, one obsessed with maple walnut ice cream, the scent of fresh timber, passive-aggressive manners, Indian leg wrestling, and medicinal “puffin cream.” Inspiration was taken from the Prime Minister to-be’s personal diary and Rankin connected with Mackenzie King’s tendencies toward vanity, repression, self-righteousness, and self-pity. Played by Dan Beirne with petulant primness, Mackenzie King struggles to achieve his maternally prophesied political and romantic aims (and sublimate his dominating shoe fetish), and the film traces his misadventures through the brutalist interiors of Rideau Hall, the frozen utopia of Quebec, a sunny and freshly logged, new age Vancouver, and a baseless and fetid Winnipeg.
A former Winnipegger himself, Rankin carries on the prairie post-modernism of Guy Maddin and John Paizs, and like his predecessors, Rankin finds ways to make a hard earned dime look like an eccentrically spent dollar (or loonie). Hand-painted and animated in sections by Rankin himself and utilizing a palette that evokes the colours of Canadian banknotes, The Twentieth Century’s stunning production design recalls earlier film eras with its intertitle chapter cards while it also embraces the fresh Canadianness established in the aesthetics of Group of Seven painters like Lawren Harris and York Wilson and the modernist designs of Expo ’67. Rankin even loads his historical subject with a gleeful perversity and a shameless phallocentricism that would do Ken Russell proud – watch out for that ejaculating cactus and that narwhal horn! The Twentieth Century is an acid trip-take on peace, order, and good government and it is staunchly glorious.
Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up the rights to Rankin’s brilliant film and we can only hope that its eventual hard media release will not only include The Twentieth Century but also many (if not all) of Rankin’s short films including Negativipeg (2010), the most Winnipeg-ish thing I’ve ever seen committed to film.
In anticipation of our next found footage Criterion proposal, MMC! is taking a brief and relevant tour through a favourite genre – the city symphony. We start with the unconventional example of Claude Lelouch’s C’etait un rendez-vous (1976), a thrillingly accelerated tour through Paris, from the Paris Périphérique tunnel, around the Arc de Triomphe, through red lights, up one-way streets, and across centre lines to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and Lelouch’s then-girlfriend Gunilla Friden. Lelouch shot the film himself one Sunday morning in August, driving a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 with a camera mounted to its front bumper and reaching a top speed of 200 km/h, although the film’s soundtrack is dubbed to the sound of the director’s Ferrari 275GTB. The short gets much of its charge from the fact that Lelouch is obviously not driving on a closed course. In fact, Lelouch had only one assistant along the route, Élie Chouraqui, who was posted at the Rue de Rivoli with a walkie-talkie to caution Lelouch on the blind junction located on the other side of an archway. The radios failed but Lelouch thankfully had a green light.
Those looking to connect C’etait un rendez-vous with our upcoming proposal might consider the short’s unconventional approach to the city symphony, the prominence of driving, and the potentially self-destructive actions undertaken for a beautiful blonde at an old basilica.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Maya.
Maya, a Hindu word describing magic and illusion, is embodied in Bella (Viviane Romance), a bewitching prostitute in an atmospheric port town who conjures the fantasies of visiting travelers and temporarily becomes the women of their dreams. The pragmatic Bella has no expectation of finding true love or leaving her profession until she meets Jean (Jean-Pierre Grenier), a passing sailor who saves her from the police and devotes himself to building a life with her, provided fate does not intervene. Based on Simon Gantillon’s successful play and produced by Viviane Romance herself, Raymond Bernard’s Maya deftly blends the styles and techniques of poetic realism, film noir, melodrama, and Cocteau-like fantasy to create a world of mystery and eroticism.
Restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
“The Film That Made You,” a 1989 conversation between Viviane Romance and Louis le Roy
Interview with film critic Italo Manzi on the casting and distribution