Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Cat in Paris

Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli.
2012. Rated PG, 70 minutes.

Steven Blum
JD Blanc
Anjelica Huston
Phillippe Hartmann
Matthew Modine
Gregory Cupoli
Lauren Weintraub

Dino is a cat that lives in Paris, hence the title. During the day he is under the care of Zoe (Weintraub), a little mute girl that that loves him deeply. Dino brings Zoe any dead creatures he can carry as a token of his appreciation. Zoe lives with her recently widowed mother Jeanne (Harden), a police officer specializing in catching bad guys and absentee parenting. Therefore most of her daughter’s time is spent with Claudine (Huston), the nanny. Oddly, the cat sneaks out of the house every evening and returns in the morning. The others know she leaves but haven’t a clue where she goes. We know that she goes across town to hang out with Nico (Blum) and accompanies him on his nightly burglaries. Eventually in the picture is Costa (Blanc), a ruthless art thief. We’re told he’s the one who killed Zoe’s father. The girl has not spoken a word since.

The seemingly separate strands of our plot are quickly established and work toward each other at a wonderful pace. The early scenes don’t dawdle endlessly, they make their point in a concise manner and provide us with neat foreshadowing. The whole thing is barely an hour long, a testament to its efficiency.

Efficiency without heart is a death knell for a movie. Luckily, this one does indeed have both. We can’t help but feel sorry for Zoe. Her mom is incessantly pre-occupied and her nanny seems well-meaning but can’t take the place of a child’s mother. Other than Dino, she has no friends and is having major trouble coping with her father’s death. Later, we project ourselves onto Nico and the relationship she develops with him.

Of course, with a cop and a bunch of criminals around, there’s bound to be some action. Most of it is back-loaded into the final act. Before this, an intriguing police procedural is well-mixed into a story that’s full, but not cluttered. Each section of the tale feels to be an organic part of the whole. There is some contrivance to get Costa into the story, but once in he’s so much fun we’re okay with it.

Another interesting aspect is the animation. Hand drawn, it’s less concerned with being a photo-realistic representation than it is with conveying feelings. For instance, Nico is a burglar and has to be sneaky therefore, he moves fluidly, snake-like. Costa, on the other hand, is a brute with a gang of henchmen. He moves accordingly. It may sound strange to say this about such an old style of storytelling but it’s a breath of fresh air among all the computer animated fare out there. Likewise for the storytelling on display. It sets a brisk pace and doesn’t pad its runtime with extraneous exposition and over-manipulation. It doesn’t beg you to keep up because it’s secure enough to know that you will. The ending leaves some loose ends but we’ve had such fun watching, we don’t really mind.

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