Originally created 05/06/04

Visual storytelling wows in 'Belleville' now out



Filmmakers by nature are unrepentant thieves.

Sure, they gussy up their light-fingered ways with terms such as homage or interpretation, but the truth is that Quentin Tarantino wouldn't have a 10-minute short feature in him without 1970s exploitation cinema, and Star Wars would have been nothing without the invisible contributions of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. There's a reason why Western good guys wear white, bad guys black and every saloon has a swinging door.

Which is what makes The Triplets of Belleville such a wonder.

Although rooted in the traditions of hand-drawn animation, Belleville establishes a wholly original take on the look, feel and storytelling style usually associated with filmmaking animation.

Gone are the fairy-tale palaces, the loquacious packs of singing forest friends and the subsequent plush toy tie-ins. Instead, the filmmakers have developed and drawn a surreal world where whimsical architecture produces mile-high buildings and speedway city streets where cars collide only when it moves the plot along. They've created a cast of expressionist characters that, while defying the laws of physics and physiology, infuse the film with a very human core.

So powerful is the film's visual language that it takes multiple viewings, or perhaps a single reading of this review, to catch the fact that the complex tale of kidnapping, organized crime, show-business shelf lives and familial love unfolds without dialogue. In fact, the French-made film doesn't even have subtitles.

So effective is this willfully odd technique of pure visual storytelling that even the more mundane sequences, such as a car chase - well, sort-of car chase - and a quiet dinner are jaw-dropping displays of imagination and wit, unlike anything seen before.

In a time when Disney is announcing the end to traditional hand-drawn animation, Belleville is something of a traditionalist relief. It's proof that, despite what shining new technology might come down the pike, there will always be a place for the artist and his art.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.