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Weekly Alibi Feline Anxiety

"When The Cat's Away"

By Devin D. O'Leary

AUGUST 4, 1997:  Just last week, my good friend Scott asked me to watch his cat while he was out of town on vacation. Unfortunately, as soon as Scott left town, I realized he had given me the wrong keys. After a day or so of panic, I located a window in his house that was open a wee crack and spent the next seven days stuffing cat food through a two inch gap to the immense gratitude of a yowling calico. As a result, I feel I share a certain kinship with the heroine of the new French flick When the Cat's Away.

Chloé (Garance Clavel) is an overworked young lass from Paris who takes a long-awaited and long-needed escape from the confines of the City of Lights. Unable to find a friend to watch her beloved feline Gris-Gris (convincingly portrayed by Clavel's very own cat Arapimou), she entrusts the cat to the care of an old lady by the name of Madame Renée. When she returns from her vacation, Chloé discovers that Gris-Gris has gone on the lam thanks to an open kitchen window. Armed with handful of fliers, Chloé ventures out into her funky neighborhood. Soon every musician, artist and little old lady in the immediate vicinity is embroiled in the search for the lost cat. Almost against her will, the unhappy introvert Chloé is forced to face the colorful, quirky world outside her door.

There is the horde of foreign immigrants who cluster in the neighborhood bars. There's the collective of grungy musicians who haunt the coffee shops. There's the network of little old ladies slowly being evicted from their apartments for the growing tide of trendy boutiques and hip nightclubs. All of these people are new to Chloé, who up until now has been content to perform her crappy job during the day and slink home to be pestered by her annoying gay roommate at night. Chloé isn't just looking for her cat, she's searching for love, life and a sense of self. Anyone who's ever lived in a college ghetto, dealt with lousy roommates and hovered around the trendy part of town--be it Greenwich, New York, or Nob Hill, Albuquerque--is sure to sympathize. The supporting roles are all thesped by non-actors whose scenes were shot in their own apartments, giving the entire film a natural, unrehearsed feeling.

When the Cat's Away is a wry, freewheeling parable about modern urban life. Issues of gentrification, multiculturalism and good old-fashioned urban loneliness slip in and out, and the film teases with the idea of becoming something more symbolic. In the end, though, it settles for a simple premise. Cities, more and more, are squeezing out their old world charm, their neighborly atmosphere. Isolation of individuals is becoming the trend of the day. It's quaint to think that something as simple as a lost cat could break us out of our protective shell.

Unfortunately, I didn't fall in love, meet anyone interesting or tour the funkier sections of Paris on my adventure in feline anxiety. Scott came back, said "Thanks," and that was that. Life rarely imitates art. In the case of When the Cat's Away, though, art can sometimes imitate life.


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