Album Reviews

Ben Charest – Belleville Rendez-Vous OST

(Delabel) UK release date: 8 September 2003


Ben Charest - Belleville Rendez-Vous OST

Film soundtracks usually fall into one of three categories. In the pre-video era their function was to serve as a souvenir of a much-enjoyed movie, but by the ’90s, soundtracks had become just one part of the film companies’ marketing apparatus, often bearing little or no relation to the blockbuster they were promoting. In a few, all too rare, cases, film soundtracks have taken on a life of their own, being admired as self-contained works of art – 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner being three that spring to mind.

French jazz guitarist Ben Charest’s score for Sylvain Chomet’s much admired animation feature Belleville Rendez-Vous falls into the latter category, being an enjoyable artistic statement in its own right, but it also serves as a souvenir of this remarkable film, and, given the film’s lack of dialogue, as a means of driving and underpinning the action.

The plot, concerning a cyclist who is kidnapped by dark forces, leaving his grandmother, Madame Souza; his dog, Bruno; and an old singing group, Les Triplets de Belleville, to try and rescue him is as quirky as the music – a strange mix of cocktail jazz, big band sounds, Palm Court Orchestra cool, accordion-led ballads, torch songs, space age easy-listening and jaunty workouts evocative of those sublime Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt jam sessions. The overall effect of this mélange of different styles is one of pastiche, nostalgia and unsettling dislocation, not unlike prolonged exposure to one of Frank Zappa‘s ’60s sound collages – without the rude bits of course.

Disney this most certainly isn’t. Ben Charest’s intention is, ultimately, to convey the singular mood of Chomet’s film, a kind of jaunty otherworldliness and, whether it’s on the Herbie Hancock pastiche of Jazzy Bach, sub rock and roll of the hilarious Pa Pa Pa Palavas or the raunchy Opening Theme, he succeeds admirably. It’s the Belleville Rendez-Vous theme, however, that stays longest in the cranium, a motif that occurs in three different versions, two of them performed by M, but Charest also cleverly includes the original demo version, the rawness of this recording adding a certain manic energy to proceedings, the same holding true for much of the soundtrack.

As with most movie soundtracks it helps if you have seen the film but, so vivid is Ben Charest’s music, that it is by no means essential in order to appreciate this album. The odds are, however, that once you have seen the movie, you’ll also want this wonderful recording – and vice versa.


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Ben Charest – Belleville Rendez-Vous OST