A Cat in Paris | Film review
With U.S. animation completely overtaken by computers, it’s more than refreshing to see this old-school hand-drawn export from France: It’s exhilarating. Titled A Cat in Paris for English-speaking and -reading audiences (although its French title, Une Vie de Chat, translates as A Cat’s Life), this cartoon noir distills Hitchcock into 64 brisk minutes for middle-schoolers and up.
By now, you might well have heard of the film, which made selective premieres in the United States last year, including a showcase slot at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. Its profile got a huge boost in January, when it scored a surprising nomination for animated feature at the Academy Awards. (It beat out several much-better-known, bigger-budget American films to make the short list, although it lost to Rango, about which we won't complain.) Now it's finally getting the larger distribution it deserves, arriving at the Siskel Film Center for a two-week-long run, where it will screen both in an English-dubbed video transfer (utilizing the vocal talents of Oscar winners Anjelica Huston and Marcia Gay Harden) and a subtitled 35mm print.
In case the film's stylized, non-computer-generated imagery doesn’t tip you off to the fact that you’re not watching an American animation, there are several other signs. Most notably, Dino, the titular cat, never speaks, except to meow or hiss. Meanwhile, we’re not subjected to excessive cartoon violence without consequence, but we do see a cartoon penis. (It belongs to a statue.) The only other time we’ve seen one of those was the quick cameo by Bart’s wiener in The Simpsons Movie.
From the very start, the film announces its retro visual style with a dynamic title sequence that zips across the screen, bursting with Saul Bass-influenced dynamism. Its plot follows three very different humans—a gutsy police detective; her mute daughter, Zoe; and a nimble burglar who prowls Parisian rooftops—whose parallel lives are inched ever closer together by Dino, who splits time between both homes. Several suspenseful sequences and one “oh no!” plot twist later, directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol craft the perfect Hitchcockian bookend: a climactic chase sequence along the sprawling parapets of Notre Dame. The images’ moody palette finds fine accompaniment in the pitch-perfect score, both jazzy and thrilling. A Cat in Paris isn’t flawless, but it is nevertheless fantastic.
A Cat in Paris runs at the Gene Siskel Film Center (164 N State St, 312-846-2600) July 27–August 9; $11, kids $7. For a detailed breakdown of which screenings are dubbed and which are subtitled, check out siskelfilmcenter.org/catinparis.