Belleville Rendezvous is a film I got for my twelfth birthday. It’s an animation about the Tour De France, and I first saw it in my French class at school. It’s in French but there isn’t much talking, although there are subtitles when necessary.
Champion is a young orphan boy living with his elderly grandmother, Madame Souza, in a house in the country. She can see that he’s bored and needs a hobby, and she searches desperately around for something that will do. Hoping it will interest him, she buys a little puppy, but the only thing that happens is that the puppy becomes bored too. Champion makes a train track and watches the train go round and round with his dog, Bruno. Bruno’s sitting too close and it runs over his tail, and from then on he barks at every train he sees. Madame Souza, sitting nearby, comes across a hole in her newspaper on the Sports page and asks Champion about it, but he just shakes his head. Later, she’s making his bed and she sees a picture that is pinned up above it of his mother and father with a bicycle. Something fall out from underneath the mattress and she picks it up and look inside. It’s an exercise book, full of pictures and newspaper clips of cyclists. She then buys him a tricycle, and he is ecstatic.
Years later, the city has spread out so far that the countryside cottage is being almost knocked down by a railway bridge, with trains that speed past the top window, so that each time one passes Bruno has to make a special trip upstairs to bark at it. It’s raining, and Champion, who is older, much taller, and much, much thinner, is cycling up a steep hill in the pouring rain, closely followed by his grandmother on his old tricycle. She is sheltered by an umbrella and is blowing a whistle as she tries to train him up for the upcoming Tour De France. A bus comes along and pushes them against the pavement until finally Champion falls off his bicycle.
When they get home, they are met by Bruno. Madame Souza is carrying the mangled bike and Champion looks exhausted. He goes and lies on the table with his eyes closed, whilst his grandmother fusses around him and tries to fix his bicycle. She sits him on some scales and lets him eat until he reaches exactly the right weight. He’s only had a few forkfuls, but she takes his plate away and dumps the rest in the dog’s bowl, and he doesn’t object. He puts a record on the gramophone and winds it up by cycling at top speed on a bicycle that is attached. After a while he falls asleep and is carried upstairs by him tiny but stalwart grandmother, closely followed by Bruno the dog.
The day dawns of the Tour De France, and Champion is struggling at the back of the long line of cyclist, followed by his faithful grandmother, sitting knitting on top of a van, and Bruno the dog. Some sinister men in black suits appear and give their tire a puncture, so that they have to stop to repair it. While they do so, they capture Champion and take him away.
From then on it’s up to the grandmother and the dog to find out what has happened to Champion. They befriend some unusual old ladies, who are ancient triplets with a love for hand grenades, eating frogs, and using household items to make music. With their help, they manage to rescue Champion and two other captured cyclists.
It does not end happily though- the last scene is in a darkened room with a grey-haired Champion sitting in front of a television. He calls for his grandmother but she does not come.
This film is slightly strange and surreal and it is definitely very sad. The animations and mostly focused on soft grey and brown colours, but they brighten up as the grandmother enters a big city for the first time, as if to show how disorientated she is. There isn’t very much talking so it’s not a very educational film if you’re trying to learn French, but the music and the idea are amazing.
I particularly like the fact that the grandmother is such a resilient and resourceful character. She seems to be the kind of person you could rely on to help you. Bruno the dog’s dreams are interesting to watch, and it was good to have a break from the main film every now and then. I also really liked the caricatures, such as the waiter who leans dramatically backwards and forwards when he is taking people’s orders.
Overall I would say that this is a very good film, but not one to watch at a sleepover or with a friend, as it’s hardly ever funny and it might have you depressed for the rest of the evening. For any other kind of film watching, it’s a great experience which I am very glad I’ve had!
Estimated watching age: It’s a twelve but my nine year old brother has seen it and wasn’t scared or anything so I would say nine and up.
Price on Amazon: £9.69 for normal DVD, no BluRay edition.
Producer: Didier Brunner, Paul Cadieux, Regis Ghezelbash, Colin Rose, Viviane Vanfleteren
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Film certificate: 12