Chats Perches / Case of the Grinning Cat (2004, Chris Marker)

A different kind of movie than the other Marker works I’ve seen. Really this is what I’d been waiting for: the politically-engaged street filmmaking of the 60’s and 70’s combined with the travelogue gaze and personal essay style (with distancing commentary) of Sans Soleil. Didn’t fill me with joy like most of Marker’s movies do, however… more contemplative and sadder, takes more time to think about each section and let them all sink in. Uses public artwork of cats to weave from Sept. 11th reactions to political situations in France to the death and imprisonment of friends and entertainers in such a way that, like Sans Soleil, I don’t realize what the film is about until I watch it again. Two versions of the film… first time I played it with English narration, then a couple weeks later I ran the French version with live sound and no narration, just scattered intertitles. Shockingly (since I usually love Marker’s narrations) I liked the second way better. But then, I got more out of it having just seen the English version. So I’d recommend both as a double-feature!
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Quotes below are from the English commentary.

Opens with a flash mob in Paris. People mill around opening and closing umbrellas, to music from Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
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November 2001 Paris. September 2001 New York.
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Cats on a roof, on buildings high and low, hidden in a tree.
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The metro, a bridge, signs of Paris from long ago. Presidential election at the end of year… the left is split, so the far-right candidate Le Pen comes close to challenging the incumbent Chirac, who is defensively re-elected after protests in the streets against Le Pen.
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“Let’s face it: these girls with their war paint are lovely, but the fascist legions are not besieging our gates. And if Le Pen is a dictator, it’s mainly against his own people. Yet what we see here coming onstage is an entire generation that was spoken of as being apolitical.”
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More about the cat, appearing in the evening news and all over the internet.
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March 19th, Bush (backed by Blair) declares war on Iraq, but UN inspectors find no weapons. More street protests in Paris, but as with the American protests of the time, they’ve splintered into hundreds of mini-demonstrations. “Why should the streets of Paris be less chaotic than the rest of the world.”
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The plundering of Iraqi museums in April, a “die-in” for the victims of AIDS in June. “In these times, we the people gathered to watch eleven billionaires kicking a ball. What about the French team? Stalinesque-sized posters, as we had never seen the like of in Paris – and not one goal recorded.” More about street demonstrations with “a certain fuzziness in the symbols.” “It’s a great asset in life, not to know what you’re talking about. Marker follows political and popular developments with great interest but without total enthusiasm, removed from it all. Seems like he’s either saying “it’s nice that they’re trying, but their struggles are shadows of the struggles I lived through” or “this is what I was once like, with the same futility and wasted energy.”
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Sees a personal friend (below) in a street crowd, then records news footage relaying that friend’s death at age 79 soon afterwards. Flashback to 1999, at a concert benefitting a cause that same activist friend had supported, Marker had filmed a young singer, who five years later had become famous for accidentally killing his actress girlfriend. “And you wonder why the Cats abandon us?”
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What if they left us for good?”
‘We were the Freedom Cats. If you didn’t catch the message, just move on!’
And then – comes a sign.
The same unknown hand has painted circles of Cats on the sidewalk, to watch over our sleep.
Thank you, Cats.
We will badly need you…
…wherever we go.

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This film is dedicated to M. Chat and those who, like him, are creating a new culture.
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