Discovering the truth about parents and their past

Discovering the truth about parents and their past

Attila Marcel (September 5, 2014)

Everyone fell in love with Writer/Director/Composer Sylvain Chomet in 2003 when his stunningly animated and marvellously original comedy Belleville Rendez-Vous conquered adult imaginations and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

The literal translation from the French title, The Triplets of Belleville, refers to three elderly musicians who become unlikely heroines.

Although Chomet’s first live action film, the whimsical Attila Marcel, suffers in comparison to ‘Belleville Rendez-Vous’, the two films share certain characteristics, including a recognition of, and admiration for, older women.

A pivotal character in Belleville Rendez-Vous, Madame Souza is an elderly lady raising her forlorn grandson after the death of his parents.  When piano lessons and a dog fail to interest him, she hits the jackpot with cycling.

Her grandson becomes a world cycling champion and Madame Souza is his coach.  When he is kidnapped by the Mafia, during the Tour de France, grandma Souza goes to his rescue, aided by three retired music hall singers.

In Attila Marcel there are two elderly ladies, not quite twins, but sisters (Hélène Vincent and Bernadette Lafont), who dress alike and wear the same expressions of joy, concern, or sadness.

Like Madame Souza, they have raised their nephew Paul (Guillaume Gouix) from the age of two when his parents also died.  Paul, traumatised by the sudden separation from his parents, grew up mute and notably odd.

Paul’s aunts succeed where Madame Souza failed in interesting their ward in the piano, although his true feelings toward the large, heavy obligation in the living are as repressed as everything else in Paul’s life.

In addition to practising for a competition, Paul also plays the piano at his aunts’ dance studio. The clientele are a far cry from those in the Belleville cabaret, but equally bizarre.  While the grandson in ‘Belleville’ was tall and thin, Paul is on the short side, and is constantly eating chouquettes (a crunchy pastry) as a form of sublimation.

Then one day Paul’s boring routine of the past 20-odd years is interrupted when he wanders into the bohemian lair of Madame Proust (Anne Le Ny) an environmentalist and ukulele-strumming squatter. She whips up a potion that allows Paul to revisit his first years and discover the truth about his parents.

Ingeniously, Paul, and his bare-chested, long-haired professional wrestler father, the eponymous Attila Marcel, are played by the same actor.  The scenes in which Paul’s parents demonstrate their particular brand of show-business entertainment, misinterpreted as abusive arguments, are inspired.

Some of the other scenes and characters, however, bear the influence of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s self-indulgent quirkiness.  Whether or not the characters would have worked better in an animated film is a moot point. But as live action characters, they are more like precious artefacts than characters we can relate to or care about.

by Joyce Glasser, Mature Times film reviewer