The Rabbi’s Cat: Bountifully Strange and Charming
One day, the rabbi’s cat starts talking. He’s a clever cat: He can also read and hold up his end of a theological debate, and he’s far more liberal in his thinking than the rabbi. His dreams are concerned with ontological matters, but his heart belongs to his mistress, the rabbi’s daughter. The setting is 1920s Algiers in this bountifully strange but charming animated French film, and approximately 107 things happen in rapid succession: The rabbi’s cousin arrives with his pet lion, a Russian refugee from a pogrom arrives in a crate of books, a pilgrimage to Ethiopia is undertaken in search of Jerusalem, two characters meet sudden, bloody ends. The cat loses his power of speech, then regains it again, while prejudice, sexism, Judaism, and much more are explored almost peripherally, with little recognizable plot arc but lots of upbeat energy. The lovely sketchbook backgrounds are detailed enough to make you feel like you’re in another land as much as a cartoon can, while the figures are rendered in a rounded, friendly latter-day Disney-esque style (and dream sequences take place in their own more abstract and flattened world). Sly references are made to Tintin and The Little Prince. In the end, if you’re not sure why anything happened, the warmth and humor here make it a worthwhile trip.