Features and Columns · Movies

Bizarre and Brilliant: The Absurd Optimism of ‘The Triplets of Belleville’

Why be wholesome or disturbing when you can be both?
Triplets Of Belleville
Sony Pictures Classics
By  · Published on December 20th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the themes of warmth and cynicism in The Triplets of Belleville.

I’d venture a guess that many grown-up cinephiles have had a formative viewing experience where a movie got under their skin. Where a movie felt weird but they lacked the ability to delineate why, exactly, it left a pit in their stomach.

For me, that movie is The Triplets of Belleville, animator Sylvain Chomet’s feature debut about a determined grandmother’s quest to save her grandson from mobsters with the help of the titular Triplets, a by-gone vaudeville trio. Despite its PG-13 rating, my french immersion elementary school thought it would be a great movie to show to a gymnasium full of kids aged in the single digits. (To make a long story short, it wasn’t.)

Madame Souza is raising her melancholy grandson, Champion, on her own. He dreams of competing in the Tour de France, and after training his whole life, he finally gets a shot. But when he falls to the back of the pack, he is kidnapped, trafficked across the Atlantic, and forced to compete in stationary bike races where the losers are executed. What follows is Souza’s quest to save Champion.

Despite its undeniable visual charms and droll comedic sensibility, The Triplettes of Belleville is a viscerally upsetting watch. It’s as if Courage the Cowardly Dog got in a head-on collision with French surrealist Jaques Tati and an Honoré Daumier political caricature.

There are plenty of individual elements that contribute to the movie’s strangeness: its grotesque vision of North American excess, the uncanny integration of CGI and 2-D animation, Benoît Charest’s anxiety-inducing score. But as the video essay below keenly underlines, its truly disturbing power lies in its core thematic thrust. Namely: the difficulty and importance of persevering, no matter how daunting things get.

For all of its playful nods to French pop culture and its ostensibly diminutive lead characters, The Triplets of Belleville is a movie brimming with palpable and constantly escalating peril. To survive, characters must sweat, struggle, and push through a seedy world that wants to overwhelm them at every turn. This is a surreally hilarious but utterly distressing imperative: to push forward, even and especially when the odds are comically stacked against you.

Watch “The Triplets of Belleville – The Warmth Amidst the Cynicism”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the themes of the animated feature The Triplets of Belleville is by You Have Been Watching Films. United Kingdom-based writer Oliver Bagshaw produces the channel, creating video essays on an assortment of movies, from cult to classic strains of cinema history. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.