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Belleveille Rendez-vous - Sylvain Chomet (Part Two)



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 people’s 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 didn’t 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 own.

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. I’ve always been struck by that.

Q. Your film is nostalgic. Is this because you don’t 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 disgusting foods?
A.
I wanted to push gastronomic cliches to an extreme. I’ve lived abroad longer than I’ve lived in France, so I’ve often come across people’s 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 grandmother’s 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 can’t do those things with live camerawork. I like extreme caricature, though it’s 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 can’t 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 we’d 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. That’s something we’re very proud of.
You can’t 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 hadn’t conceived previously…

Q. The scene in which they cross the ocean is very beautiful too….
A.
It’s 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, Mozart’s 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.
I’d 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 characters act.

Q. Will you re-use the Triplets as characters?
A.
No. Maybe Madame Souza will have a cameo, just as a laugh, but I don’t intend to make a sequel.

 

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