Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Rabbi's Cat

The Boy has been cheerfully commenting on our good luck in moviegoing lately. We're usually pretty low at this point in the award season, having been subjected to pretentious, nihilistic critically acclaimed films alternated with the sort of movies that Hollywood is pretty sure are going to tank anyway, but this season has been pleasantly surprising.

We had wanted to see this French film, The Rabbi's Cat, but it was reviewed reverse of the way we normally like: Critics love it, audiences are somewhat tepid.

Well, score one for the critics this time, as this is a delightful animated romp, though not particularly for kids. It's not graphically sexual at all, or violent except for one scene, but it is rather cerebral.

The story is that of a good-hearted, if not brilliant rabbi living in Algiers in the '30s with his gorgeous teen daughter and her mischievous cat who has no name, but whom we'll call "RC" for our purposes.

RC's origin story is pretty simple. He eats the family parrot. This gives him the ability to talk, and his first words are something like "I didn't do it." Which, if memory serves, is something akin to what Adam and Eve said to God after eating the apple.

RC turns out to be a pretty bad influence in general, tempting the Rabbi's daughter (who also has no name that they mention) with saucy tales from French romances and questioning the existence of God, prompting the Rabbi to keep him separated from her and (unfortunately) with him all day.

The cat causes a lot of trouble, first by demanding to be Bar Mitzvahed, then by suggesting the Rabbi should use him to help him pass a French test he's struggling with, but the adventure really begins when they find a handsome young Russian Jew, who's been shipped to them in a box full of bibles.

It turns out that said Jew is looking for the lost tribe of Jews said to be in Africa, living in Zion, and the Rabbi, the cat, the Russian Jew, an old Russian adventurer/hedonist, and an old Muslim cleric who's close with the Rabbi (I think they're descended from the same saintly character whose monument they visit every year) set off in an old Citroen half-track across the wilds of Africa looking for Zion.

It was just a lot of fun. Philosophical, but not pretentiously so. Our heroes seem ridiculously and disarmingly naive, and the last act with its visions of an African Zion, just can't possibly be politically correct. I mean, I don't even know how to classify it.

It sorta falls in the same category as Tintin, but it's so much better because it's not trying to pander to kids or Americans. So it's easy to accept just as what it is, an almost nostalgic reflection on a "simpler" time. (Though not really simpler, since it's freaking Algeria pre-WWII.)

Our big concern was that it would be boring, and it was not. The Flower had a little trouble following it, it moved so fast. The Boy really enjoyed it, and I probably enjoyed it most of all.

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