Combustible Celluloid
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With: Fran¨ois Morel, Maurice Bˇnichou, Hafsia Herzi, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Fellag, Sava Lolov, Daniel Cohen, Fran¨ois Damiens, Wojciech Pszoniak, Marguerite Abouet, Eric Elmosnino, Alice Houri, Mathieu Amalric
Written by: Joann Sfar, Sandrina Jardel, based on the comic book by Joann Sfar
Directed by: Antoine Delesvaux, Joann Sfar
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 19/05/2011

The Rabbi's Cat (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Meow Mix

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The year 2012 was another great one for animated features, and just because Antoine Delesvaux and Joann Sfar's The Rabbi's Cat did not make much of a splash during awards season opposite Hollywood heavyweights like Wreck-It-Ralph, Frankenweenie, and ParaNorman doesn't mean it should be discounted. (It did win a César for Best Animated Feature, however.) The Rabbi's Cat is a truly peculiar little beast, awkward, puzzling, lovely, warm, and funny. Most importantly, it's genuine.

The rabbi's cat (voiced by François Morel) lives with the rabbi (voiced by Maurice Benichou), but is devoted to the rabbi's voluptuous teenage daughter (voiced by Hafsia Herzi). One day, the cat decides to speak out loud to his master and mistress, which upsets the daily routine. First, the rabbi must be convinced that the cat is not evil; they argue about science versus the Torah. Then, the rabbi's attention turns to other matters: he must pass a French exam to keep his credentials (the cat tries to help). Also, a cousin -- who keeps a pet lion -- comes to visit, an escaped Russian Jew appears inside a crate of books, and then a whole group of them go on a road trip to discover a land of African Jews.

This jumbled plot comes from Sfar's comic book series, and even if nothing seems polished or steeped in logic (it seems a waste to leave the daughter character out of the road trip), it's filled with passion and curiosity. Each of the movie's pit stops and questions and arguments are clearly borne out of some concern of Sfar's. It's mostly about observing and questioning. If we lose track of a plot thread or get momentarily confused, it doesn't really matter much; plot is not the major element here. Sfar made his directorial debut last year with Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, which was equally jumbled and did not quite come together for me. Perhaps the animation helps the material feel freer, and more able to dash haphazardly off into different directions.

The hand-drawn animation is likewise full of personality, and is more focused on capturing moods and ideas than it is in looking beautiful or smooth (though much of it is certainly beautiful). It remains to be seen how all this will translate to an American audience. It's definitely not for kids: it contains some strong sexual situations and other things that are not meant for young eyes. But on the other hand, The Rabbi's Cat nicely furthers the ages-old argument that animation can be a legitimate art form in itself. It's not just for kids.

A DVD/Blu-ray combo pack from NewVideo includes a pristine high-def transfer, though only one language track (French). English subtitles are optional. Extras include a 24-minute "making of" featurette (in standard def), a good 45-minute documentary on Joann Sfar, and a trailer. The liner notes include an excerpt from the original comic.

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