Dec 29, 2013

The Triplets of Belleville: Jazz-Age Lesbians and the Androgynous M

In the animated Triplets of Belleville (2003), professional bicyclist Champion is kidnapped during the Tour de France, so his grandmother, Madame Souza, goes off to search for him.

In the bustling city of Belleville, she encounters the Triplets, a famous jazz act of the 1930s now fallen on bad times.   They eke out a living as a novelty "acoustic" band, making music with a refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, and newspaper.  Madame Souza joins the act with a bicycle wheel, and eventually they become successful again.

Oh, and they rescue Champion in a colorful chase sequence.  The movie ends much too abruptly, with the now elderly Champion reminiscing about the adventure.

There is very little dialogue.  The characters are drawn grotesquely, so there's no beefcake.  So what's the gay connection?

1. No one expresses the slightest heterosexual interest, ever.

2. The Triplets, who have been living and working together for 70 years, can be read as a lesbian family rather than blood relatives.

3. Flashbacks show them performing in a Jazz Age nightclub, along with gay and bisexual icons like Josephine Baker, Glenn Gould, and Hoagy Carmichael.

4. Androgynous singer Mathieu Chedid, known as M, recorded a music video of the song "Belleville Rendez-vous."

He tells a psychiatrist about various ways to spend the last years of his life: in Singapore eating petit-fours, in Katmandu playing a "dou," and most significantly, in Acapulco, dancing with a gigolo ( a male prostitute).  

The English lyrics closet the verse to "dancing cheek-to-cheek."

But then he decides that he wants to be "wicked, twisted, swinging," like a Triplet of Belleville.

This irks the psychiatrist, who straitjackets him and gives him a tranquilizer injection.  That's the fate of those who try to escape gender and sexual confomity, like the Triplets of Belleville.