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Algiers, 1920s. Rabbi Sfar has more than one problem. His beautiful daughter Zlabya is becoming a teenager and above all, his parrot-killing cat has just started talking. The delivery of a box from Russia further complicates things when a painter is discovered inside, more dead than alive. He is on a quest for a hidden tribe and its mythical city in Africa. Convinced that the city exists, he sets off on an incredible adventure, taking with him the Rabbi, his cat, a wise old Arab Sheikh and an eccentric Russian millionaire. Written by
Winner of this year's Cesar Awards for Best Animated Film, The Rabbi's Cat directed by Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux is based on a comic series by Sfar, which made the narrative seem a little bit too choppy as it sprawls from a focused introduction, to something of a wandering road trip for the second half of the film that didn't seem to have a point other than to drag it out beyond its welcome. Sure it had enough comedy and quirkiness thanks to the titular cat, but alas repetition doesn't serve it well when issues and comical moments get recycled.
The animation of course is gorgeous to look at given that it's something different from the usual Hollywood studio products, and hand drawn rather than something polished off a computer, or dabbling with the 3D gimmick (though I read elsewhere that there was a 3D version overseas, which is strange given the lack of usual 3D styled visuals). The cat itself requires a little getting used to for the way it's designed and drawn, looking quite unlike any cat you've seen, with its elongated facial features and an extremely long tail.
We follow the adventures of the titular cat, who got his speaking voice (by Francois Morel) thanks to an envy and fatal attack which we don't really get to see, against the parrot of his mistress Zlabya (Hafsia Herzi), the voluptuous daughter of the rabbi Sfar (Maurice Benichou), an easy going religious man. He speaks, to the surprise of his owners, and soon declares that he wants to be a Jew, and to complete the bar mitzvah, in order to get Sfar's approval to remain by Zlabya's side (he has the hots for her you see), instead of being chased away as a monstrosity with his new found voice, akin to being the work of the devil.
Much of the narrative for the first half of the film could be seen as an open discussion between religions such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity, set in 1920s Algeria where there's a clash of cultures with the French, as well as the highlighted differences between the various religions, factions and groups that co-existed at the time. One would need to be sensitive of Algeria in that era in order to milk the most of out this picture, given the lack of background focus as it jumps directly into discussions assuming one would be knowledgeable of the issues of the time.
But even if you're not, then the second half's road trip is probably where you can still follow, where a whole host of characters got introduced, such as an Arabic Sheik of the desert (Mathieu Amalric) with whom the rabbi, his cat and their entourage got into a tangle with, a Russian painter and an African girl that they pick up, and a surprisingly little episode involving a famous Belgian reporter and his dog. It's all downhill from there in their quest to find utopia, as the narrative meanders in too episodic a fashion without an end in sight, leaving things quite open ended in its finale perhaps promising of more adventures to come, but is probably a cliffhanger just like chapters in the comic books.
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