Love getaway

“The Triplets of Belleville” tells a simple story of devotion with odd imagery.

Niels Strandskov

Among the many images that Sylvain Choumet put in his disturbing, humorous and poignant film “The Triplets of Belleville,” the dreaming dog stands out as particularly strange.

Bruno the dog, a birthday present from grandmother Souza to her grandson (the Champion), grown fat from years of the Champion’s leftover dinners, has a perfectly normal dog’s life. He sprawls around the tiny, narrow house where he lives, lumbering upstairs every 15 minutes to bark at the train that passes precariously close to his master’s bedroom window. But when he sleeps, he is plunged into an austere black-and-white dreamscape where he pilots an ancient steam engine around a track that floats in nothingness, connected to reality only where it passes a simulacrum of the house. When Madame Souza, Bruno and the Champion find themselves on a dangerous adventure that takes them across the ocean to Belleville, a stand-in for New York, it is as if the dog’s dreams have prophesied the upheaval in their orderly, mundane life.

The story begins with Madame Souza trying to find some way to break her grandson out of his funk. Music has no effect. A train set soon loses its luster. The dog only becomes a companion in melancholy. Finally she discovers that her grandson collects clippings of bicyclists and buys him a tricycle. This does the trick.

Much later, the Champion is pedaling around rain-slick streets with Souza in tow, his thighs and calves muscled to an almost obscene degree. He is training for the Tour de France.

On the Tour, the Champion is kidnapped by Mafiosi, who ship him to Belleville with Souza and Bruno following close behind but just out of reach. When they arrive, penniless, they throw themselves on the mercy of the triplets of the film’s title, an aging trio of vaudeville singers whose decline has led to some exceedingly peculiar gustatory pleasures.

As the pace of the chase increases and the stakes get higher, we see a model of determination and compassion in Madame Souza. She plods along, sad but uncomplaining, heartsick but strong, vulnerable but invigorated by her desire to find her grandson.

“The Triplets of Belleville” is pervaded by this mingled sense of loss and resiliency. Even the comic relief, which is sometimes a little creepy, underscores the lengths to which Souza is prepared to go in her quest. Sometimes she grows impatient when the other characters fail to live up to the standard of stoic determination that she has set. After the Champion’s kidnapping, she bullies her driver to change a flat tire that is preventing them from following the Mafiosi. When he fails her, she is forced to gull the long-suffering Bruno into serving as a substitute tire until they reach the port. Luckily, no harm comes to the dog, but the point is clear: Nothing will long remain as an obstacle in Madame Souza’s path.

Candy is dandy, but it’s important to take the message of “The Triplets of Belleville” to heart in this season of roses and chocolate: Love isn’t all sweetness and fun. Sometimes you have to suffer, persevere and see things through to the end if you want to keep the ones you love.