Movie Review: The Case of the Grinning Cat

Tonight I went to the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square and used my membership voucher to see The Case of the Grinning Cat or Chats Perchés in the original French.

This documentary set in Paris follows the filmmaker Chris Marker’s fascination with giant yellow cats with great big grins that suddenly begin appearing painted on the city’s rooftops in 2001. Without learning who the artist or artists of these graffiti tags are, the movie traces the cats’ development and spread across the city, becoming a cultural phenomenon. Eventually images of the grinning cat begin to appear in Paris’ many political demonstrations from 2002-2004. Marker brings his camera to demonstrations in search of the cat who appears during the Chirac/Le Pen electoral crisis, Iraq anti-war demonstrations (my favorite banner says “Make Cats Not War”), anti-racism rallies, an AIDS die-in, and protests against Prime Minister Raffarin. Marker captures the spirit of the protestors while gently chiding them for their excess and misdirected efforts. The focus of the film really shifts more and more away from the cats and to the demonstrations. At the end of the film, Marker reveals that the cats themselves have faded away and suggests that they left due to popular interest in a celebrity scandal (at least that’s what I think he’s suggesting).

The value of this film lies in the time capsule manner in which a specific time and place are caught on film. Whether he’s filming spray-painted cats or people on the march, Marker is really good at capturing the small details. The camera captures an eye-level view of the streets and Metro of Paris often zeroing in on a particularly beautiful moment or person. Through what is really just a collage of images a story emerges about Paris in the post-9/11 world.

Here are some other reviews of The Case of the Grinning Cat (which I haven’t read yet so as to not color my own review) from the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and the Village Voice. Images of les chats may be found here and here.


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