Presented by the Irvine Barclay Theatre, audiences experienced the charm of the 2003 French film, “Les Triplettes de Belleville”, or “The Triplets of Belleville” accompanied by Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville, conducted by Benoit Charest, who also composed the music for the classic film. The orchestra was joined by Allison August, who provided the tantalizing vocals to the hit swing jazz song and theme of the triplets, “Belleville Rendez-vous”.
The film follows the story of Madame Souza, an elderly woman who goes on a journey to rescue her grandson Champion, a Tour de France cyclist, from the clutches of the French Mafia. She is helped along the way by the quirky, fabulous Triplettes de Belleville, disheveled triplets, frog eating and refrigerator playing shells of their former fame as a trio of cabaret singers. The film progresses through endearing pantomimes and minimal dialogue, letting the live orchestra build the mood and support the characters through their adventures.
The music added to the humor and enchantment of the film, as the musicians tap danced on wooden blocks and ripped newspapers to create the sounds of Belleville. The music made the emotions of the characters paramount and created a loud, boisterous atmosphere for the film. One could feel the excitement and joy of the musicians and of Charest, as he recreated his masterpiece for a new audience.
The film played off of many stereotypes of the French, especially their obsessions with the Tour de France and wine for all occasions, and presents the French as greedily obsessed with enhancing their appearance and needing to please. This is especially true of the waiter at the mafia’s restaurant, who is literally animated as bending backwards and falling on his knees to please the mafia lords. The mafia men are constantly smoking and drinking, and feeding their experiments with IV’s of wine. In the climatic chase scene, the mafia after Madame Souza and the triplets is constantly foiled by the steep hills, the cars literally rolling in an exaggerated cartoon tumble down vertical slopes before exploding. Madame Souza’s spunk was all the more reflected in the obnoxious whistle she blows to encourage her grandson to persevere in his cycling, from their trainings up and down the steep hills of Paris, to her blowing the whistle as she surveys his progress from a medical truck in the Tour de France. The whistle becomes their connection as Madame Souza journeys to the big city to find him.
The charm of the film and the orchestra created a perfectly French connection for audiences old and young alike to enjoy a work of art which deserves to be called a masterpiece.