In his newest film, French documentarian and cinema-essayist Chris Marker reflects on French and international politics, art and culture at the start of the new millennium. In November 2001, the filmmaker became intrigued, as did many other Parisians, by the sudden appearance of alluring portraits of grinning yellow cats on buildings, Metro walls and other public surfaces. Marker’s cinematic efforts to document the mysterious materializations of this charming feline throughout Paris are a recurring theme of The Case of the Grinning Cat.
This engaging record of Marker’s cinematic peregrinations throughout the city, visually energized by his free-association montage style, chronicles strikes, demonstrations, memorials, election campaigns, celebrity scandals, international political incidents, and a seemingly endless variety of political protests (against the Iraq War, against China’s occupation of Tibet, against the government’s ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves). The personalized commentary running throughout The Case of the Grinning Cat offers the simultaneously learned and witty reflections of the filmmaker, now in his early eighties, on both the contemporary and historical implications of these varied events and personalities.
The mysterious grinning yellow cats soon begin to appear amidst the banners and signs in some of the political demonstrations. Eventually, the creator of the grinning cats is revealed to be an art collective known as Mr. Cat, whose members are shown painting a massive representation of their mascot on the plaza before the Pompidou Center. The filmmaker’s own famous cat caricature soon allies with Mr. Cat, as Marker speculates on the political possibilities of such a feline association.
Chris Marker concludes The Case of the Grinning Cat with thoughts on the vital importance of such expressions of imagination in our public lives, echoing the May ’68 slogan that “La poésie est dans la rue” (“Poetry is in the street”).
“I write to you from a far-off country…”
Information regarding the early life of Chris Marker, photographer, filmmaker, videographer, poet, journalist, multimedia/installation artist, designer, and world traveler, is scarce and conflicting. The year to which his movies, videos, and multimedia projects are dated depends on which source you use, and in which country you live. Personal data is in a state of complete disarray: Derek Malcolm, writing about ¡Cuba Sí! (1961) for The Guardian, reports that Marker was born in Mongolia, of aristocratic descent. Geoff Andrew of Time Out London isn’t sure (Andrew, 146), and most sources, along with the Internet Movie Database, use the location I’ve listed above as his place of birth. Some say his father was an American soldier, others that he (Marker) was a paratrooper in the Second World War. Still others, that he comes to us from an alien planet. Or the future. Throughout his career, he has rarely been interviewed, and even more rarely… read more
I can't say I understood all of it since I am not up on French politics (but the more I watch Marker films, the more I wish I was). I understood enough to get the feeling he was conveying and of course his humor and genius editing were present, as always. I wish he made more videos like this during this decade.
This movie is more difficult to non-Francophone viewers than Sans Soleil, but its localized focus on the street demonstrations of Paris and the proto-memeological M. Chat make it worth the visit into a type of geography more a projection of Marker's subconscious than a document of real streets. Having been to Paris, this is a parallel phantasm of the character that hides behind the commerce and commercial. --DiB
"It is a great asset in life not to know what you're talking about." This curious meander is an attempt to determine what people are talking about on the streets of Paris between 2002 and 2004. Marker is not at all certain that the people know themselves. But that they are on the streets, some of them, under the benevolent, supportive, mildly mocking grin of a cartoon cat may mean, perhaps, that all hope is not lost.