Benoit Charest’s Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville took to the stage of the Adelaide Town Hall last night for the first night of their Adelaide Festival season with a surprisingly mischievous air, ready to present a night of precisely played musical irreverence.
Charest introduced each musician with great affection and humour and before he settled down to the business of the evening – providing the live score to Sylvain Chomet’s 2004 animated feature, Les Triplettes de Belleville – he delivered an impromptu version of an AC/DC classic in which he played a vacuum cleaner as the lead instrument.
This surrealistic touch set the mood for the remainder of the evening, as Chomet’s film presented to us its skewed version of a world where the ordinary has become extraordinary, and the grotesque has become the norm, as a devoted grandmother goes to incredible lengths to rescue her grandson – a champion road racing cyclist – from the clutches of the French mafia.
The problem in reviewing an evening such as this, when like me, most in attendance had not seen this film before, is that you tend to focus primarily on the film and not pay enough specific attention to the live musical performance taking place before you.
The fact that you do not notice the musicians for relatively lengthy periods is actually testimony to their skills in musicianship and timing, and a confirmation that the film is so irresistible and emotionally engaging.
When you do have your full attention drawn to the players – as happens at one point when the whole ensemble get up to form a semi-circle and exuberantly stomp out a specific rhythm or, at another, when a particularly innovative percussion passage is played on ‘found instruments’ including rustling newspapers and bicycle wheels – you find yourself hoping the audience applause quickly dies down so that you can refocus on achieving re-immersion.
The live soundtrack is played so seamlessly that there is only one time when the music and the film’s action seemed to be a little mismatched, which is in a chase scene – late in the film – where the pace of the music does not seem to satisfactorily reflect the building tension in the events unfolding on the screen.
Overall though, The Triplets of Belleville was a terrific experience – both film and performance combine beautifully to create an entrancing transportive event that reinforces, through narrative and the magic of music, the power of unconditional love in an increasingly impersonal world.
The Triplets of Belleville will be presented and performed again, as part of the Adelaide Festival, on Thursday 15 March at the Adelaide Town Hall at 8:30pm
Tickets are available here: The Triplets of Belleville tickets