Eye For Film >> Movies >> Belleville Rendez-Vous (2002) Film Review
Witty, affectionate and brashly weird, this international French language co-production is one of the most interesting films of the year, and has so far been a massive hit at the festivals.
It follows the adventures of a devoted grandmother struggling to console and inspire her orphaned son. When he shows an interest in bicycles, she sets him on the road to competing in the Tour de France, but there are sinister mafia types out there who wish to use his talents for another purpose. With the aid of unhinged triplets who were once great stars, and of the loyal family dog, the grandmother sets out to take on the mob.
Interwoven with this is a rich tapestry of minor events and character developments which draws the viewer into the tale. The characterisation is amazing, as is the depiction of inter-character relationships, complimented by objects and interiors which convey a real sense of being loved and lived in. Several scenes are seen largely from the point of view of the dog, who pursues real doggy urges throughout, yet never fails to engage audience attention. In the absence of any significant amount of dialogue, much information is conveyed by way of facial expression and gesture. It's a little misleading, however, to suggest that the film is non-verbal. An understanding of French is not necessary for one to enjoy it, but it does add a great deal, enabling one to get more of the incidental jokes and to appreciate the lyrics of the songs that run throughout.
Belleville Rendez-Vous' soundtrack is another plus. Few modern films make such impressive use of orchestras and jazz, and there are some excellent solo musicians featured. The music contributes to the undertone of earthy sexiness and robustness of purpose that keeps the old women passionate about life. Yet Belleville Rendez-Vous is also willfully grotesque, and certainly not for the faint hearted. With homages to Terry Gilliam and Jacques Tati, it takes sudden unexpected twists and turns which could turn your stomach but which will utterly delight children in the audience. It's one of the most violent films this year, without ever losing its family-centered charm. The final 'car' chase overturns as many expectations as cliches and racks up a startling body count. It is intensely inventive and gloriously good fun.
Some critics have called the animation in this film 'simple', apparently due to the absence of flashy modern CGI; it's difficult to imagine any other way in which the statement could be accurate. Every scene is packed with detail. When everything speeds up for races and chases, that detail work continues apace, never sacrificed simply because a first-time viewer cannot possibly catch it all.
The animation of water, explosions, and old back and white films is stunning. Belleville Rendez-Vous cheerfully juxtaposes images of remarkable beauty with images of disgusting cruelty, boldly depicting life in the raw. The other thing worth noting about it is the sound quality. This extends beyond the music. The sound work is complex, subtly evocative, and technically outstanding. There's really just too much to admire about this film to recount in one review, so be sure not to miss the chance to go and see it for yourself.Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007