Monday, July 12, 2004


Some of the best movies I've seen in my life are those where at the end you sit there kind of dumbfounded at what you've just seen, not knowing exactly what it all meant. These movies tend to take you to a place vaguely familiar yet in an odd way completely away from anywhere you've ever been before.

This appreciation of discombobulating movies was a lesson I learned at an early age. I seem to recall that every year in grade school all us kids would be dragged down to the gymnasium where we would be shown the French film Red Balloon. To this day I'm not quite sure what the important lesson I was to learn from the movie. The story was about a young French lad, sorta a sissy, who befriended the title character. He followed and played and with this balloon all over the streets of France.

The other children teased him and eventually popped the balloon by throwing rocks at it. The kid was of course, devastated only to be uplifted at the end of the movie by a bunch of other balloons. Up, up, and away he flew, happy as a lark even after the loss of the original balloon. It was ambiguous what would occur once the kid came back down to earth to face the bullies that had tormented the boy for befriending a rubber product in the first place.

Later on when I went through a phase of hating all things French because of an association I had with a relationship gone way bad I had to wonder if part of my hatred towards that country had to do with remembering being dragged year after year to watch Red Balloon. And now as I've come to respect the country for having the nerve to stand up to some of the things wrong in this world I have to wonder if my appreciation for another confusing French film hasn't been colored by things outside the movie screen.

The animated film The Triplets of Belleville made me smile and wince at the same time unlike any other movie I've seen before. It's a strange film both dark and funny. To describe exactly what it is about would be a futile exercise. Suffice it to say I was mesmerized throughout the entire movie shaking my head at the same time I was involuntarily grinning ear to ear.

The movie opens by introducing us to the title characters, a musical sister act that has at least one irresistible hit song that gets repeated playings throughout and never fails to get the toes a-tappin. The sisters seem to be a tad eccentric, at one point using explosives to gather up frogs for a multi-course froggy meal. Their instruments are comprised of an empty refrigerator, a newspaper, and a vacuum cleaner. The gangly trio never says anything other than kind of humming disapproval over some things.

The other major character is an elderly woman with big round eyeballs seemingly affixed to the back of her spectacles, who raises a boy with the help of her dog Bruno. Bruno early on develops an issue with trains after the boy's toy electric train runs over his tail. Whenever a train rumbles down the tracks after that incident Bruno barks away both out of remembrance and anger and fear.

Meanwhile the boy graduates from being an expert tricyclist to a successful participant in the Tour de France. It is his superior ability as a bicyclist that ultimately gets him in trouble as he is kidnapped by the French Mafia, complete with their obscenely broad shoulders who need his skills for a bizarre little scam they have going.

This certainly isn't a Disney cartoon and the twists and unexplained turns throughout the plot are a delight. Somehow we can emphasize with the old woman even if her way forward is stubbornly undeterred by its sometimes futile nature. Bruno is also a great character as we see how he kind of is the one who makes everything else make an odd sort of sense. And the triplets? By the end of the movie you can almost actually believe that they are indeed a long lost important musical act we haven't quite forgotten yet need to be reminded of every now and then.

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