Book A Cycling Tour
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Google Plus Share on LinkedIn Share on Email
Cycling Cinema: a review of ‘Belleville Rendez-vous’

Cycling Blog

Cycling Cinema: a review of ‘Belleville Rendez-vous’

Tweet This
Share This

December 31st, 2014

At the start of December we reviewed ‘Bicycle’, a documentary film exploring various aspects of cycling. This inspired a hunt for other cycling related films – a hunt which unearthed Belleville Rendez-vous: an animated and surreal film revolving around a group of Tour-de-France cyclists.

The dialogue free film from 2003 sees these cyclists kidnapped and held by a bunch of ne’er-do-well goons. The surreal and bleak visual backdrop combined with the fun and jazzy musical one create a unique and captivating atmosphere. It’s a great piece of cinema, and the treatment of the bicycle (and bicyclists) throughout is very intriguing:

The bicycle is introduced early as a romanticised and exotic means of escape from humdrum life in rural France, and later as a symbol of loss and longing. Cycling brings together a family and is exploited by the antagonist captors later in the film. Its use as a storytelling device through the film is very clever.

As a child, the main character (if he can be called that – perhaps ‘driving character’ is a better term) shuns music, toy trains, and even a pet dog, opting instead to collect snippets of newspapers with stories about bicycling. As he grows, so too does the amount of cycling memorabilia in his house: framed pictures, old bike parts, a bike umbrella stand, discarded gear mechanisms, a smattering of trophies and a ‘champion’ cloak, and even a bike weathervane to top it off (literally).

The story is underpinned by competitive cycling and by music (a great combination). Perhaps the most striking scene is the training montage: the cyclist tows his trainer-stroke-grandma behind him on a tricycle whilst tackling Paris’ biggest hills as she blows a supportive-yet-relentless whistle. She gives him a thorough sports massage afterwards utilising a whisk, a lawnmower and a hoover. He then sits on a scale and eats a prescribed amount of grey mass before getting on an exercise bike hooked up to a vinyl player, and cycles himself to sleep. A scene I’m sure will be familiar to anyone training for a Ride25 ride!

Musically, the introductory scene references Django Reinhardt and the Andrews Sisters, and Benoît Charest’s soundtrack is strong throughout (if not a bit mad!). Musical curios are scattered around the triplets’ apartment in the same way bike related bits-and-bobs decorate the cyclist’s, and their performances are delightfully absurd. See below for an example:

All spoken parts of the film are incidental and don’t contribute to the story: this decision to entirely avoid storytelling through dialogue means that the characters’ expressions, actions and possessions must be especially evocative, and the animators rise to this challenge remarkably. The caricature style captures perfectly everything they intend to convey: the horsey gasps of tired cyclists, the squeaks of the mousy captive genius-mechanic, the exaggerated gauntness and distorted physique of the cyclists.


Overall, Belleville Rendez-vous is a very clever film of contrasts: the contrast of elegant and subtle storytelling with grotesque and unsubtle caricatures; the contrast of an emotional story with characters whose expressions are almost entirely devoid of emotion; the contrast of the whimsical with the serious. When easily achievable feats of whimsy (travelling hundreds of miles by pedalo, fishing with a pipe bomb) are contrasted with the passing of multiple seasons before the story is offered any resolution, the futility of the longing felt by the characters is highlighted well.

The moral to be taken away from the film, though? Old ladies are bad-ass and are not to be trifled with!

2 Responses to “Cycling Cinema: a review of ‘Belleville Rendez-vous’”

  1. Deanofthenorth Says:

    The film was released as ‘BelleVille RendezVous’

  2. Chris Lee Says:

    Good spot – thanks! It’s called ‘Triplets of Belleville’ on non-UK releases, got mixed up and thought it was the other way round.

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For Updates

* indicates required