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City Got Your Tongue? Humanity vs. Modernity in Film Noir

An homage to film noir, A Cat in Paris narrates the intrepid story of a cat, a cat burglar, and a girl named Zoe as they breeze 0ver the rooftops of Paris.

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“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them” -The Naked City

An homage to film noir, A Cat in Paris narrates the intrepid story of a cat, a cat burglar, and a girl named Zoe as they breeze 0ver the rooftops of Paris. The film, directed by the French animation duo Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnon, runs for a little over an hour and continues the tradition of hand-drawn ink and paint. The film should by no means be dismissed as a just a cartoon though, as it grapples with a rather big idea. A Cat in Paris returns to the iconic setting of film noir: The city.  Still, where noir masterpieces such as Dassin’s The Naked City (1948) and Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) recreate the city as an invincible monster, the protagonists of this film manage to tame it and grow a symbiotic relationship with it.

Scene from A Cat in Paris (Image source: AurelioB on Flickr)

T.S. Eliot, a leading voice of the modernist writers, saw the city as a heap of broken images. This is the city of film noir; ever-changing, daunting, labyrinthine and immense. Such a depiction of the “city” became the ideal setting for directors to show a conflict between humanity and modernity. Similarly, the plot of “Cat” pushes a young girl, Zoe, from the ordinary, almost mundane, places of her daily life into the tumultuous city of Paris. In her first scene, she is shown in her bedroom reading peacefully on her bed. As the movie progresses, she begins to explore more territory; first her own home, then her neighborhood, and finally greater Paris.

The film inexorably progresses towards a climactic ending at an iconic Parisian location– a symbol for the entire city — in this case Notre Dame. Together with main character Zoe and the gargoyles of Notre Dame, we become an audience to a showdown between Nico, the honorable cat burglar, and Victor Costa, the ruthless criminal responsable for the death of Zoe’s father. Both men are products of urban, both are successful criminals, and both vivify two opposing sides of the city–tacit kindness vs. ruthless indifference. As the film draws to its end though both Costa and Paris are defeated, a conclusion that differs from so many of the intrepid detectives of film noir.

It is Zoe that defeats this city, and she does so simply by speaking. Throughout the plot of the film the young girl refuses to utter a single syllable, due to her mourning the loss of her father to murder. She won’t say anything about her daily life, perhaps because she feels there is nothing worth saying. Yet, as she ventures out from the usual and runs through the night with a Nico away from her father’s murderer and his incompetent gang, she gains something to talk about.

So, as the plot reaches its climax and Costa is defeated, Zoe cannot stop talking her adventure. In contrast to the opening scene of the film– a scene that shows Nico’s first heist with Notre Dame towering tall and proud amid the city– the final shot of the film shows Notre Dame encapsulated in a snow globe. The great city is diminished to a character in a little girl’s story, a conquered trophy that adorns the mundane place where Zoe’s tale began.

This film argues that talking about our city adventures makes the urban setting more amiable, tolerable, and even enjoyable. This is after all the The Urban TimesThe adjective “urban” is one intresically linked with who we are as city dwellers. A city can immensely challenge its dwellers however, at least on account of this film, talking of your adventures help conquer it. How do you survive the indifferent chaos of the city?