Volume 91, Issue 49
Tuesday, November 25, 1997
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Here kitty, kitty
OH LA LA. JE SUIS TRES DESOLé. Garance Clavel as the lonesome Chloe, who is pining for her "chat perdu," Gris-Gris.
By Vivien Cheng
Even a film with a central storyline built upon a neighbourhood's search for a lost cat can be entertaining. Despite its unstructured plot, When the Cat's Away, Cedric Klapisch's story about loneliness in Paris, is light and humourous because of the film's simplicity and improvisational manner.
Chloe is a young make-up artist who goes on vacation and leaves her cat Gris-Gris in the care of an older, eccentric woman named Madame Renée. Upon her return, Chloe finds her cat has gone missing. So with the aid of Madame Renée and Chloe's gay roommate Michel, the quest for Gris-Gris begins.
In the process of searching, Chloe encounters a neighbourhood full of wildly diverse people such as the Arab Djamel, the painter Bel Canto, a strange long-haired drummer and Madame Renée's band of elderly women.
Based on a true story, the film is set in the area where the incident actually took place the Parisian neighbourhood of La Bastille. But if you're looking for the romanticized, tourist-brochure scenes of Paris that populate Hollywood films, you won't find it here. Devoid of a single shot of the Eiffel Tower, the streets and buildings of Paris depicted through the eyes of Kaplisch could easily be mistaken for any other European city. Kaplisch's Paris is vast, crowded and claustrophobic at times establishing the city as a foil for Chloe that mirrors her loneliness in the same way that her search for Gris-Gris parallels her search for companionship.
Kaplisch also chose to use both professional actors as well as residents of the neighbourhood who play themselves in the film. As a result, the genuinely interesting personalities which fuel the film are highly memorable and amusing. Madame Renée, played by Renée LeCalm, is especially prominent as the strong, outspoken elderly woman who puts forth all her efforts to aid Chloe. The professional actors are just as strong. Chloe, played by French actress Garance Clavel, contributes greatly to her role as the lost, lonely, single girl in a big city. Her silent, demure nature and bottled frustration speak loudly, relaying a more profound meaning to her quest.
Another differentiating aspect of the film is the process by which it was filmed. Shot in a largely improvisational manner, Klapisch would often let the actors stray from the script, altering the story as filming progressed on a day-to-day basis. This method has several consequences, both positive as well as negative. The plot is quite loosely assembled and consequently there are moments when the story seems to lose its direction. As well, the film has English subtitles, which may pose a distraction for viewers.
Nevertheless, the film's simplicity works to its advantage. When the Cat's Away may hold a plot that is uncomplicated, but it is this simplicity which enables the piece to hold depth by allowing the audience to concentrate on the film's interpretation.
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