Forgotten Films

Chacun cherche son chat (1996)

One of the worst moments I had at university was during a discussion about this film whose English title is When The Cat's Away. The fact that we had the discussion might mitigate against it being placed on a 'forgotten film' list but I haven't met many people who've seen it and it's my list so we'll just assume that I'm right and move on. Anyway, we're having a discussion about the film, about the themes and how they contrast to Jean-Pierre Junet's Amelie.

Film studies tends to take a structuralist approach to everything - you're breaking the work down to its constituent markers and trying to decide what they mean outside necessarily of their place in the film. Whilst I understood all that, I also kept in mind that these are pieces of entertainment and it was always important to appreciate how they made the audience and therefore me feel.

The French film classes, which usually consisted of me nodding thoughtfully while my two classmates Geraldine and Suzanne chatted away -- unless they didn't know either in which case they'd ask me what I thought and I'd tend to say something inane. I should say this was the only subject in which I did this - the rest of the time I had to stop myself having an opinion about everything. Anyway, this day, it was my turn to do a presentation on the films viewed so I decided I would say something in keeping with my ideas - these were two films that I clearly loved and I wanted to say why in a non-structuralist sense.

So when asked, I said that I really identified with the main character. Chloe is something of a loner you see, always on the edges of communities, always slightly behind with the in-jokes, only now and then feeling at all like she belongs somewhere. When she goes away on holiday, she leaves her cat with a neighbour and it goes missing and during the rest of the film, whilst the community rally around looking for the moggy, she goes on a man hunting adventure which culminates in … you'll have to watch the film to find out.

In any case, at the time I was identifying with the first bit because I'd been traveling to Manchester, not really been able to join the student community there, but also wasn't spending much time with people at home either. As regular readers will know I was sort of stuck. And that's what I said in the seminar. The tutor looked at me and said, and I think he even put his hand up in a stopping gesture, "You really do have to divorce your own feelings from your analysis of the film".

I still think that could be interpreted as a bizarre statement, because any analysis is an opinion and opinions are based on your feelings about the work, but that really knocked me off my stride. Luckily, I'd covered Amelie far more traditionally first, and that had gone quite well. And I went back to largely saying nothing in the remaining seminars. But I do love the film and it is because it shows that actually no matter how much of an outsider you are, there is always a community out there.

But director Cedric Klapisch's film is also about the breaking down of the old concept of community, a theme that is expressed visually because during the making of the film the actual neighbourhood within which it was being shot was being demolished, and the wrecking balls are part of the scenery. The film has also been catagorised as being part of the French New New Wave which emphasizes a realistic depiction of youth and their compartmentalization within that society (the protests in Paris last year being one of the expressions of it I suppose).

The cast largely consists of non-professional actors from the district as well as amateur theatre performers and professionals. The stand out is obvious Garance Clavel as Chloe (pictured); Klapisch often simply rests the camera on her expressive face, displaying her reaction to events rather than events themselves. Much like Stealing Beauty, it's a film about blossoming sexuality, and her arc is demonstrated in the costume design as she shifts from trousers at the opening to a summer dress at the close, and having met a potential mate, running down the street to the strain of Portishead's Glory Box ('Give me a reason to be a woman') which I found out during study is slightly controversial because it implies that for a woman to find a man she has to throw off some of her independence and take on his idea of what femininity should be.

Choosing Chacun cherche son chat allows me to include on the list a Cedric Klapisch film that isn't L'Apartment Espagnole (stupid English title: Pot Luck) or my favourite film released in the UK last year Les Poupées russes (equally stupid English title: Pot Luck 2: The Russian Dolls), both of which would also be good candidates for the forgotten film description. As it stands the film is available on dvd in France in a boxset with the rest of Klapish's oeuvre which I would have bought by now where it not without sous-titres en englaise. When I was studying the film I found a VHS on eBay which is perfectly fine and since it's from Tartan has excellent sleeve notes.

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