The Triplets of Belleville

Columbia TriStar Home Ent., $24.96

Although it's still best to see Triplets in a theater, having the chance to play and replay a favorite section at home is pretty seductive. Luckily, none of the wit or invention of this Oscar nominee (and should-have-been winner) is lost on DVD (out May 4).

Triplets is set in the 1950s, although its heart, art direction, and a crucial flashback are in the 1930s. It follows, at feature length, lonely little Champion, raised in a small French town by his doting Spanish grandmother, Madame Souza, who has a huge heart, an orthopedic shoe, and the tenacity of a Resistance fighter. She wants only to give the orphaned boy his heart's desire: to compete in the Tour de France. Madame Souza oversees his training, and voilà! Over a decade, once pensive, pudgy Champion—now shaped like an S-hook with a Gallic nose and pneumatic muscles—becomes worthy of his name.

The bicycle competition is baroque enough: Champion's kidnapping by the Mafia to the city of Belleville requires a daring rescue attempt by Madame S. and her dog, Bruno; but when those '30s singing stars, the Triplets, reappear as great old, frog-eating broads, it's time to abandon synopsis entirely.

Happily, the disc's extras are primarily in the hands of writer-director Sylvain Chômet, who, with his collaborators, pops on-screen from time to time with insider comments. The musical vacuum cleaner, we learn, now has a name; its artist/inventor deadpans his faith that "Mouf Mouf has a great future ahead of him." Another artist thought that rather than being eaten by his shoes, as he is in the film, Fred Astaire should triumph over them. "I think he kind of missed the spirit of the film," Chômet says with perfect sangfroid.

Of the elongated, bony Triplets (whose big hands and feet beat time to their close harmony), Chômet reveals: "They're like tall black guys who play basketball. Their strength comes from the fact that they're really Africans inside." Once that secret is out, you'll never see them any other way.

Sheila Benson

ALSO OUT MAY 4, Helen Mirren bares her breasts in Calendar Girls, Scarlett Johansson poses nicely in Girl With a Pearl Earring, and Tom Cruise dons a kimono in The Last Samurai. Better bets are Gus Van Sant's Columbine fantasia, Elephant (no commentary, disappointingly), and the no-frills Chinese cop thriller The Missing Gun. The Belgian bereavement/forgiveness drama The Son tends toward the dull, but you'll learn about woodworking.


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