THE CASE OF THE MISSING CAT (Chris Marker, 2004)

A sequel of sorts to Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977), Chats perchés finds Chris Marker, the world’s most celebrated lover of cat-images, in a frisky, playful and, now that he is in his eighties, elegiac mood. In 2001, all around his Paris, on this building and that, close to the ground or high in the sky, toothily smiling Cheshire Cat-faces suddenly appeared. What are we to make of this catfiti?
     For Marker, there is less possibility now of looking ahead. Like a cat he can get cranky—and be direct. Thus, when youthful demonstrators revise an old song ca[s]tigating Pétain, the traitorous leader of Vichy France, replacing his name (in 2002) with that of Prime Minister Raffarin, Marker (through his narrator) notes, “It’s a great asset in life not to know what you’re talking about.”
     Discussing mostly French politics, Marker nonetheless opens Chats perchés by referring to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York. He recalls the frontpage sentiment, “We Are All New Yorkers,” which the whole Western world immediately shared with France, and asks who is to blame for its not lasting. His own response raises a chuckle and grazes the heart: “Certainly not the cats.”
     Listening to a consideration of the gradations of Leftist politics in France or elsewhere fascinates. In the U.S. there is no organized Left, only stray individuals and a left-of-center liberalism that the Far Right nevertheless demonizes as “the Hard Left.”
     An actual subway cat, who gets a paw trapped in an escalator, disappears; where has this cat and the other cat-faces gone? Doing his best to hold onto a vision, Marker indulges in a special effect, conjuring a diaphanous gigantic cat-face: humanity’s creation of God in the image of a cat.

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