This is a wonderful talking cat from Algeria that lives with a rabbi and occasionally visits Paris. One day it ate the rabbi’s parrot and in so doing, gained the gift of speech. Being a smart cat it denied eating the bird and instead demanded conversion to Judaism. The design of the cat appears loose and improvised. Whilst it is rather thin and scrawny in physique it is big in terms of personality, intelligence and cheek. This richness of character and determination affords the cat the capability of comprehending foreign languages(he speaks Arabic, French, Latino and a bit of Spanish) and of learning the Torah. The rabbi’s cat is a marvellous, witty and charming cat that pleases itself, as cats do. It has appeared in several comics and most recently in an animated feature film of the same name and is the creation of the very talented Joann Sfar, a jury prize winner at Angoulême for The Rabbi’s Cat graphic novel. The cat likes to hang out with the rabbi’s daughter and snuggle up close to her. It even tells her that it loves her. She tells it to shut up as she prefers it when it’s quiet or not around. It’s also inconvenient for both of them when her boyfriend visits. The cat loves a bit of a scratch, preferably on the ear by a female foot with painted toenails. Resilient, resourceful, stubborn, smart, curious and decidedly nocturnal, this cat is difficult to ignore.
The Rabbi’s Cat (Le Chat Du Rabbin) film is a charming animated adaption of the graphic novels by Joann Sfar who also co-directed the film thus ensuring an authentic visual adaption of the bande dessinee. I saw the film at the 2012 French Film Festival in Sydney and I have been reading the graphic novels for a couple of years. You can watch the trailer of the film here. Sfar is a prolific and award winning comics creator with awesome talent who is now transferring his talents to filmmaking. Sfar had previously directed the highly stylised live-action film Gainsbourg (vie héroïque) of the life of the famous 1960’s French pop singer Gainsbourg (that’s Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte’s dad). The film won the French Oscar, César Award, for Best First Film. The Rabbi’s Cat (Le Chat Du Rabbin) film also won a César for Best Animated Feature and the similar prize at the 2011 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. It is a traveller’s tale in more ways than one dealing with the cat’s progress from ordinary cat to talking cat having swallowed a parrot, its enforced separation from its beloved mistress, the rabbi’s daughter, and its struggles with the rabbi in its attempts to convert to the Jewish religion. Then there is the overland journey in an antique Citroën half-track, all terrain vehicle from France to Africa with the rabbi, a Russian artist and others in search of African Jews in Ethiopia. The film is ambitious covering material from three of the graphic novels although some characters and sequences have been altered or omitted. Its visual design has also been modified into a more simplified cartoon look suitable for animation production from Sfar’s sumptious illustrative style but the images remain rich and varied. It contains plenty of satire including a few barbs aimed at Tintin and his dog Snowy whom the travellers meet in Africa and whom the cat finds somewhat obnoxious.
For a more formal analysis of The Rabbi’s Cat graphic novel see my post Gridlocking Joann Sfar’s Talking Cat on The Comics Grid. You can also watch an extract from a new documentary by Sam Ball called Joann Sfar Draws From Memory that shows Sfar cheerfully drawing in a restaurant with his pen and water-colours whilst dining and commenting on his cross-cultural background and port city upbringing.