DIR: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol • WRI: Alain Gagnol • PRO: Jacques-Rémy Girerd • ED: Hervé Guichard • DES: Jean-Loup Felicioli • Cast: Dominique Blanc, Bruno Salomone, Jean Benguigui, Bernadette Lafont
There is no doubt that the Oscar®-nominated French animation A Cat in Paris, for all its stylistic quirks, is pitched wholly at children. It’s the slow-paced story of Zoe, a young, lonely mute girl and her clever, wandering cat. At night, this cat leads a double life as a daring assistant to Nico, a friendly, gentle jewel thief. Meanwhile, the villainous Costa, who killed Zoe’s father, is obsessively searching for a rare statue. Zoe’s mother, a policewoman, is on the trail of not only her husbands killer, but the mysterious thief Nico. Zoe rather randomly stumbles into the lives of Nico and Costa, resulting in a nocturnal adventure across the rooftops of Paris.
The first half hour sets a sombre, serious tone with very little dialogue, and it is caught in a tonal middle ground which may not easily please any age. The enjoyable opening jewel heist is as much for adults as for kids, but this is one of the rare moments that appeals to both ages. It’s clear that a simple, direct style of storytelling for children is being employed once the shameless expository dialogue starts to appear, such as the mother instantly telling us of her dead husband, or Nico lamenting his loneliness to the cat. It eventually gathers momentum and becomes more enjoyable once the villain, Costa is introduced. Unfortunately, this enjoyment came too late in the running time for me.
Initially, Costa is portrayed as an insecure, obsessive bully, and the mistreatment of his likeable henchmen made me instantly sympathise with them. As the film goes on, even Costa provides many laughs, and is the main source of humour. There are brief glimpses revealing the source of his obsession with the Colossus statue, such as his mother placing a photo of it over his cradle as a child. He fantasises that he is a colossus himself, and his hallucinations result in some wonderful and alarming images. It is a shame that the most interesting character has to fulfil the traditional role of the villain in a kid’s film, as he is so often involved in uninspiring set pieces where any unique interest is lost.
Zoe’s silence throughout the film mostly works. It justifies the still, quieter moments, as well as functioning as a handy plot device. Unfortunately, the emotional distance created by her silence is not replaced by non-verbal means until the last act, where the inability to speak is used to create a sense of helplessness that will leave only the coldest viewer unsympathetic.
The visuals are artfully stylised, using contorted, circular lines for the characters. Interestingly, an ancient tribal mask is revealed as a piece of loot early in the film, yet it looks exactly like the majority of the human faces in the film. The titular cat is the exception, his strong angular face resembling an Egyptian statue. Refreshingly hand drawn, even if a little rough at times, the film looks very charming. Every frame seems to have been individually shaded, resulting in a uniquely pulsating, shimmering appearance to every character.
Later in the film, during a daring rescue, the lights are shut out in a house, and the finest moment of the film takes place. Simply presented with just white outlines against the darkness, Nico and the cat silently make their way past the gangsters, overhearing their humourous small talk on the way. The scene ends with a gangster performing a monologue detailing his life story, which lasts longer than expected, and ends sooner than I wanted. It would have made a wonderful short just by itself.
It left me longing for the filmmakers to turn their attention to an adult audience with a future project as they have an interesting style that could result in something very special. Their haunting short film Le Couloir screened as part of the ‘Strange Shorts’ programme in the 2007 Cork French Film Festival, sharing the visual style of their feature film, but electing for a much more darker tone. It is a film that has been stuck in my mind ever since.
A Cat in Paris is pitched at kids, and there just isn’t enough for adults here, unless you enjoy a simplified, direct storytelling style. There were several moments throughout, especially in some of the sillier set pieces, where I wondered if the film was any different to a kids afternoon television show. If you’ll allow me to be cynical, I can imagine some adult cinema-goers attaching much more intellectual importance to the film simply due to its status as a subtitled foreign film. I urge parents to take their kids to the film, because it does not have a condescending view of its target audience. It treats its young audience with respect, and assumes that they do not require a rapidly paced onslaught of gags to be entertained. While watching the film, I wondered if kids would appreciate a cartoon with a greater emphasis on drama than comedy, but there are live action dramas aimed at kids, so why not cartoons?
Kieran O Leary
Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
A Cat in Paris is released on 6th April 2012