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28 October 2014
FILMS - Interviews

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Sylvain Chomet
Belleville Rendez-Vous
Written by Saxon Bullock
updated 1st September 2003


Sylvain Chomet
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Read our review of "Belleville Rendez-Vous"

Animated films rarely come as quirky and stylish as "Belleville Rendez-Vous" the wonderfully bizarre tale of club-footed Portuguese old lady Madame Souza, and her quest to rescue her Tour De France-obsessed grandson from the Mafia. Already surfing on a wave of huge acclaim, it's the feature film debut of 40-year-old French animator Sylvain Chomet.

What was the main objective in making "Belleville Rendez-Vous"?
I wanted to do things in animation that hadn't been done before. It's a very rigid medium in what people think it should be. It's always got to be for kids. It should bring good feelings, have bad guys and good guys, and end with a moral. But this means there are lots of subjects and things you can't show, like someone smoking a cigarette for example. With "Belleville", the aim was to go against that, and do something that wasn't aimed at kids. It's great that kids can enjoy the film, but it freed us up to go in directions that the animated movie hasn't gone in before.

Why did you choose the Tour De France as the film's subject?
I've always liked the movement of cycling. It's the circular motion of the bicycle, and the shape of the cyclists themselves - especially back in the days when they'd be incredibly spindly with amazingly overdeveloped leg muscles. They're fascinating characters: very nice, timid and shy people. But they often don't look like they're enjoying the race. I don't think I've ever seen a cyclist looking happy, even when they've won. I've also always thought it was strange that the Tour De France starts and ends at the same point. It's like they're suffering all this hardship, but not actually getting anywhere as a result.

There's a surprising amount of digital animation in the film. What problems did it help you to solve?
It was mainly to get rid of all the boring stuff. Objects, for example, always take a very long time to animate because they don't change as they move. We used CGI for the cars, the bicycles, the boats and the trains, and it meant the animators had more time for enjoyable elements like the character acting.

How did you go about developing the characters?
It doesn't come from a drawing. What I get in my mind is an idea of their movement, and I just use the graphics to enhance this. Like with Madame Souza: she's a very small, fragile character, but because she has to drag around this enormous club foot, she can also be quite violent and stubborn. It's one of the things I love about animation: to be able to have two concepts of a character. To see one thing, but feel something else.

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