Smuggling outside food or drink into a darkened theatre is a common practice among certain movie patrons. Naoko Ogigami’s charmer “Rent-A-Cat” may tempt some cat-loving viewers to smuggle a cat or a kitten into a darkened theater for on-the-spot petting or hugging. But given the cats seen during the course of the film, one’s cat fix can be satisfied without the need for live accompaniment.
Since childhood, Sayoko has been a cat magnet. Felines may be distrustful or cautious around other humans. But around Sayoko, they feel instantly comfortable. This has led to Sayoko’s house being overrun with cats. To make some space for herself, the young woman rents her cats to lonely people needing affection. Ironically, the Japanese slacker also pines for the affection of a husband. When former classmate Yoshizawa accidentally re-enters Sayoko’s life, has her wish finally become reality?
“Rent-A-Cat” will never be mistaken for high art. Much of the film follows with some variation a set structure of “meet person, learn problem, make person happy, reclaim cat, and do odd job.” What redeems the film from predictability is that it’s never quite clear how much of it should be taken as literal. It’s never certain how Sayoko manages to keep all her cats supplied with kibble and fish cakes. The young woman’s dabbling in stocks and fortune telling with the help of her cats seems more like fantasy sequences than actual profession.
Ogigami also thankfully resists the temptation to turn the film into a feature-length exercise in cat pron. Gratuitous cat shots are few and far between. A viewer will notice cats chasing each other or a cat using a shrine as a personal resting spot. But the cats never steal the picture from the human actors.
The temptation certainly existed. Japan is the birthplace of kawaii culture, aka the love of cuteness. Yet the melancholy stories of Sayoko’s customers balance out any cuteness overload generated from seeing calico kittens or surly plump orange tomcats. For “Rent-A-Cat”’s real focus is in using peoples’ relationship with cats to tease out what isolates them from their fellow human beings. The old woman’s relationship with her rented cat points out her alienation from her grown but absent son.
This doesn’t mean that “Rent-A-Cat” is utterly cuteness-free. Sayoko’s polling her cats on their preferences regarding dried over canned food or vice versa is absurdly cute. Also, a couple of the cats particularly stand out as characters. A kitten who likes smelly human clothing brings smiles and amused exasperation. The old dignified cat called Master Utamaru might possess supernatural powers. .
“Rent-A-Cat” won’t convert dog lovers into cat lovers. But it will warm those hearts open enough to love cats.
Does political drama still have relevance in the age of YouTube, asks Merzak Allouache’s feature “Normal!” Algerian pro-democratic reform street protests prompt film director Fouzi to try finishing his uncompleted film about government censorship by re-assembling his cast and seeking the actors’ feedback. Against the ever-present background whirring of government helicopter flybys and frequent excerpts from the uncompleted film, the animated discussions provide the film’s main point of interest. Even then, one has the feeling of missing certain unstated ideas.
Many readers have probably experienced incredibly crappy days. But what if you’ve had to live through a spectacularly crappy week? This state of misfortune does befall several characters in Patrik Eklund’s ensemble film “Flicker.” What’s remarkable about Eklund’s work is his ability to mine comic gold from such subjects as arachnophobia and computer mishaps.
Rural Swedish electrical company Unicom is in serious financial trouble. Company revenues have been falling, partly due to a disastrous PR campaign. When an accidental blackout pushes Unicom towards a financial deathbed, company head Tord gambles on turning things around with an expansion into 4G technology.
The trouble with Tord’s plans is that Unicom seems to be a magnet for losers. The accident sparking the blackout causes family problems for Unicom repairmen Roland and Jorgen. Custodian Brigitta’s arachnophobia makes cleaning away the occasional spider meltdown-worthy moments. Financial officer Kenneth Skoglund finds his unwanted adversarial relationship with office technology makes the production of a vital financial report increasingly impossible.
Eklund’s film never descends into gleeful sadism. The viewer empathizes with the characters’ loneliness or their general sense of helplessness in the face of more powerful outside forces. Tord, for example, is primarily haunted by his fears of ruining the company his father had built. Yet one would not be wrong in suspecting that adviser Valter’s presence was born out of the old man’s less than complete confidence in his scion’s competence.
However, “Flicker”’s love for its unsuccessful characters doesn’t mean Eklund takes things easy on them. The misfortunes visited on Kenneth, starting in the title sequence with a flat tire, spirals upward in intensity until the man winds up becoming an emotional land mine ready to explode on contact with life’s next misstep.
The film’s best jokes come during its absurd yet logical moments. Seeing Roland and his in-laws wear snowshoes to go to dinner makes perfect sense to them. Yet cinematic distance allows viewers to feel the near surreality of the sequence.
Predictable jokes do crop up, such as Brigitta’s close encounter with Sauron the tarantula. Yet even those familiar moments are still shot to make a viewer anticipate the comic payoff.
“Flicker”’s other strengths include a nice bouncy theme, mentions of Gus Grissom and Superman, and a gift for generating smiles at unexpected moments. One can only hope more audiences can see this film.
(Screening at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center 2 Theatre (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael): “Normal!” on October 10, 2012 at 9:30 PM and “Rent-A-Cat” on October 12, 2012 at 6:00 PM. Screening at the Cinearts@Sequoia 2 Theatre (25 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley): “Normal!” on October 12, 2012 at 2:00 PM and “Rent-A-Cat” on October 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM. For advance tickets and further film information, go to www.mvff.org