Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. Where did you get the idea for the character of Madame
Souza, the wonderful granny who will do everything she can to
protect her grandson?
A. She is not directly drawn from my own grandmothers, who
died when I was very little. My maternal grandmother, as described
to me by my parents, was more of an inspiration for the Triplets
with their joie de vivre.
Q. Were you a sad little boy, like Champion, in your film?
A. When I was small, I spent a lot of time alone. My older
sister was ten years older than me and as I was always drawing,
I was happy to linger in my inner world. I enjoy other peoples
company, but I also need to gather strength alone. When I was
a child, I had a toy called Minicinex, which projected tiny super-8
reels. When I watched cartoons on this, I didnt know what
they meant. I thought people just filmed whatever was in front
of the camera, as if the characters really existed.
Q. You honour many artists in Belleville Rendez-vous, Charles
Trenet, Django Reinhardt, Jacques Tati, Fred Astaire, Josephine
Baker, Max Fleischer
Why refer to them directly?
A. Because major American stars often appear in American cartoons,
but French stars of the period never appear in French cartoons
because there is no cartoon industry in France. I wanted my film
to be a fake, a film we should have been able to see at time but
never did. I also wanted to pay my respects to Dubout, whose wonderful
work fascinated me when I was a child. His style is so perfect
for animation. I wish he had been able to make cartoons of his
Q. What inspired you for Belleville? What relates to Montreal
and what relates to New York in the architectural mix?
A. The first image of Belleville in my film shows the Chateau
de Frontenac in Quebec. We used many details from Quebec and Montreal
in trying to show how these cities might have turned into New
Yorks. When Quebec looked like it might secede, the money went
to Toronto, which is the big English-speaking city. The bridge
in my film is the Jacques Cartier Bridge, shown surrounded by
typical Quebec architecture.
There is a passing reference to the Statue of Liberty, which relates
to the American way of life, and also to the incredible number
of fat people one sees in US cities. Ive always been struck
Q. Your film is nostalgic. Is this because you dont
like the way we live now?
A. No, I benefit from it too. But from a design point of view,
the 50s were more inspiring. Town planning, cars, clothes, were
creative and interesting. Drawing and design were an important
part of life, on posters, in schoolbooks. It was also a period
when people relaxed after the trials of the Second World War.
They were less cynical, keener on their freedoms.
Q. Some scenes seem to poke fun at the cliched view of France,
such as one sometimes finds in America, the lack of cleanliness,
the fondness for eating frogs legs and snails and other
A. I wanted to push gastronomic cliches to an extreme. Ive
lived abroad longer than Ive lived in France, so Ive
often come across peoples repulsion at the thought of eating
frogs legs or snails. I played a joke once, creating enormous
frogs leg out of plasticine, with bones made of Q-tips and
cotton thread for veins, which I covered in greenish sauce and
put on a dish. Despite their extreme courtesy, none of my British
friends would try one. But when my back was turned, an elderly
gentleman nibbled at one: he was Swiss! Luckily, I rescued him
before he could swallow anything!
Q. Your characters forms are exaggerated. Black rectangles
for French Mafia sidekicks, a tiny triangle for the grandmothers
silhouette, obese people or stick-thin people
Why do you
like animating geometric forms?
A. Because I want to use the freedom that animation brings.
You cant do those things with live camerawork. I like extreme
caricature, though its the way the characters move which
really characterizes them.
Q. The Triplets use everyday objects as instruments. Are these
sounds you enjoy?
A. Yes. I was inspired by Stomp, which I saw in Montreal a
few years back. I also saw a musician make music out of a refrigerator
shelf placed on a sound-box.
Q. The world you depict is a far cry from the technological
era, yet you make use of technology and digital effects?
A. 3D effects give the film more consistency. Showing the
Tour de France, you cant use conjuring tricks to get round
the problems which arise when bicycles are animated: you have
to have many bikes. Roadside crowds were animated using traditional
techniques, but I had to show the pack.
At first, we thought wed use 3D imagery for the bicycles
alone, but then we decided to model the cyclists as well and show
them in wide-shot. They are tiny in the frame and fit perfectly
into the rest of the animation. Thats something were
very proud of.
You cant turn something like a bicycle into something emotional
and animating the spokes is an absolute nightmare. Originally,
the use of 3D imagery was a technical necessity, not an aesthetic
choice. In The Old Lady and the Pigeons, I was not able to show
a crowd or many vehicles. In Belleville Rendez-vous, it was essential
to show the streets of Belleville packed with cars. By getting
to know 3D techniques, I discovered I could use them to create
images and animations that would touch people, skies that were
interesting and a whole host of things I hadnt conceived
Q. The scene in which they cross the ocean is very beautiful
A. Its one of my favourites. We filmed the storyboard
to get an Animatic assembly, lasting about three minutes. At around
the same time, I bought a prize-winning record, Mozarts
C-Minor Mass, conducted by Elliott Gardiner. As soon as I heard
the overture, I realised it would make a perfect accompaniment
to this sequence. When I laid the music over the pictures, all
the effects seem perfectly synchronized. It was an incredible
piece of luck.
Q. How would you like people to react to your film?
A. Id like them to make it their own and match it to
their own memories. One gentleman came and told me that the film
had moved him because Madame Souza reminded him of his own Greek
grandmother. I liked that.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am going to make a film that is set in Les Halles, the
Paris neighbourhood, based on dance, not a musical, but a film
where dance comes into the story. I am reading a lot at the moment
and I think there is a lot of hilarious humour to be found in
the world of dance. I want to concentrate even more on the way
Q. Will you re-use the Triplets as characters?
A. No. Maybe Madame Souza will have a cameo, just as a laugh,
but I dont intend to make a sequel.