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Case of the Grinning Cat, The (DVD Review)

31 Aug, 2008 By: John Latchem

Grinning Cat

Street 9/2/08
First Run/Icarus
Box Office $0.02 million
$29.98 DVD
Not rated.

Soon after the attacks of 9/11, images of a yellow grinning cat began to pop up around France and other parts of Europe. The graffiti image looked like a logo designed for a T-shirt, inspired by the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland fame.

For French documentarian Chris Marker, the ubiquitous cat became a symbol for freedom and the re-emergence of French political activism.

As his hour-long film begins, the first image of the cat appears during a silly gathering in which a group of people gather in a public square to prance around with their umbrellas. The demonstration serves little purpose but to occupy the attentions of a collective consciousness in need of a diversion. Marker regarded the youth of the current generation as apolitical. Then the attacks of 9/11 would change the world.

In 2002, the attentions of French activism would turn toward a controversial election that saw Jacques Chirac overwhelmingly re-elected as president. Then came demonstrations against not just the Iraq War, but also any perceptions of imperialism. Marker also depicts a rally in support of fighting AIDS.

This isn't a political documentary per se, but rather a collection of observations and a call to constant vigilance. Marker's esoteric imagery is best appreciated by fans of independent experimental cinema, many of whom are likely familiar with the director's works. Among his best-known films is La Jetée, the 1962 film upon which 12 Monkeys is based.

The Case of the Grinning Cat (known as Chats Perchés in the original French), is a 2004 work included as part of a wave of Marker films being released on DVD. Others include The Last Bolshevik, The Sixth Side of the Pentagon and Remembrance of Things to Come.

The Grinning Cat DVD also includes a number of Marker's short films that focus on animals, in keeping with the feline theme of the DVD.

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