Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Cat in Paris

2010's A CAT IN PARIS (UNE VIE DE CHAT) is a delightful animated feature, a highly enjoyable hour spent traipsing around familiar Parisian landmarks.  The promise of a nimble feline as its central character was what sealed the deal, what caught my eye in the public library's DVD section. What made carting an odiferous snapcase worth the trouble (do other borrowers carry these discs home under their armpits?).

Delightful is the right word. Beautifully (hand) drawn. Refreshing to watch, honestly. So pleasing to these tired eyes. The artificiality of computer animation is wearing thinner and thinner. This film is an endlessly vibrant palate of color and some really interesting shading. Shadows are used to great effect.  But I just wish there was more "cat".

Zoe is young girl who has a darling black kitty that sneaks out every night to join a young man named Nico, a jewel thief. Each morning, the cat brings home dead lizards and sometimes even jewelry to his owner. Zoe refuses to speak, perhaps in protest to her mother's (Jeanne) consuming preoccupation with her job as a police detective. Also because her father lost his life in the same line of duty to a gangster named Victor Costa, who seeks to bag an African statue that is about to be shipped out of town, and who Jeanne is determined to nail.

There is a lot of plot in A CAT IN PARIS. Costa's bumbling goons in fact get far more screen time than the titular cat. This is a bit distressing as the gears of the script creak with familiarity; the details of the storyline as Jeanne attempts to stop the criminals and rescue her kidnapped daughter are as old as the Rue Mouffetard itself.  I would've preferred a more contemplative, even melancholy journey with that most enigmatic of domesticated pets. A love poem both to the mystery of cats and the City of Lights.  Having such an involved screenplay almost seems an attempt to engage American audiences (the American dub of this film uses the voice talents of Marcia Gay Harden, Anjelica Huston, and Matthew Modine). I enjoyed the original voices more. This is a French film, it should've been more French!

But this quibble is no reason to miss such a charming movie. There is much to appreciate in its short running time. Mainly technical, yes, with its imaginative backdrops and fluid movements. I loved the sequence where the characters find themselves in the dark after a power failure, their figures seen only as dotted lines. There are also funny nods to films like GOODFELLAS and even RESERVOIR DOGS woven in (and yes, this film is a bit intense for the younger set). And any film that uses a Billie Holliday tune gets at least half a point.

But directors Jean Loup-Felicioni and Alain Gagnol (who also scripted) would've made a wonderful film that much moreso if they just hung with our friend, down the alleyways. Pontificating on life.  Maybe that wonderful series of shorts featuring Henri ("Henri, le Chat Noir") could be adapted next?

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