Friday, May 14, 2004

Video: The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

I’ve never seen anything more French in my life.

Sylvain Chomet’s animated feature is virtually dialogue-free, its soundtrack filled with a cacophony of multilingual mutterings and sound. Chomet has forged a style that combines Tex Avery and Jacques Tati. There’s not much of a plot. An elderly woman raises her grandson, drawn to look like a Gallic Marty Feldman, to compete in the Tour de France. When he’s kidnapped during the race and Shanghaied to the city of Belleville, Grandmere pursues him with the help of the title act, a trio of elderly musical performers.

Belleville is not America, exactly, but a place where the cars are big, the hamburgers are bigger, and everybody is fat and proud of it. Chomet doesn’t spare his countrymen; the French gangsters are a collection of oddly shaped noses underneath berets, and the triplets attack their nightly dinner of frogs with a frightening gustatory zeal. Chomet includes enough visual quirks to carry the film past its slow patches. He’s aided enormously by Benoît Charest’s music and an insanely catchy title song by Mathieu Chedid. A music video, included on the DVD, belongs in heavy rotation on Guy Maddin’s MTV.

TRIPLETS gives the lie to the received wisdom that hand-drawn animation is dead. It’s strange that Disney and Dreamworks keep pushing this argument in an era when Hiyao Miyazaki won an Oscar for SPIRITED AWAY. More than any other form, animation demands a clearly-articulated central vision. Pixar’s films have that; the company’s last two efforts weren’t directed by John Lasseter but obviously spring from his sensibility. American conventional animation may be dead because there’s no place in the system for iconoclasts like Chomet. Bill Plympton has made a go of it. His full-length films like THE TUNE and I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON don’t have the impact of shorts like HOW TO KISS, but he’s fighting the good fight. Mike Judge ultimately turned to TV.

BTW, BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD is back on MTV2. I wish Judge would make new episodes. I want to hear the boys’ commentary on Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirrty.’

Movie: The Battle of Algiers (1965)

Gillo Pontecorvo’s controversial film about the French campaign against Algerian nationalists made the news when the Pentagon screened it prior to the invasion of Iraq. I saw it during its re-release earlier this year. It’s a harrowing piece of work.

Now word comes from Cannes that a remake is in the offing. (The Variety article on the project is subscription-only.) The original film’s producer and costar Saadi Yacef is involved, and the story will be opened up by adding an American character.

Most projects trumpeted at Cannes never come to fruition; half of them are announced only to squeeze a few bucks out of dissolute investors who are distantly related to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. But this strikes me as a particularly bad idea. To paraphrase John Huston, there’s no point in remaking a film they got right the first time. And “opening up” a story almost never works.

What really annoys me is the rationale behind the remake. Producer Basil Iwanyk says, “A lot of people are trying to dramatize what’s going on the Middle East ... (but they) are afraid to look anti-American and don’t want to touch political issues.” Good luck. Iwanyk is to be commended for giving it a shot, but going back to the 1950s and a conflict that involves the U.S. only peripherally isn’t the way to illuminate the current crisis.

The recent contretemps over Disney’s decision not to distribute Michael Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 911 has led to bogus cries of corporate censorship. But the real fallout from media consolidation is the unwillingness of the studios to make films tackling contemporary issues at a time when we desperately need them. Oliver Stone said pre-9/11 that he wanted to make an ALGIERS-style thriller about terrorism. Instead, he’s retreated to ancient Greece. I do have hope, though. TRAFFIC collaborators Steven Soderbergh and Stephen Gaghan are reteaming along with George Clooney for SYRIANA, a film based on ex-CIA operative Robert Baer’s gripping book SEE NO EVIL. If they succeed, perhaps others will follow.

Miscellaneous: Link

Roller derby makes a comeback. Setting up a remake we can all agree on: Charlize Theron in KANSAS CITY BOMBER.