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DVD Review: Felidae

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I consider myself a cineologist — far from some elitist, hoity-toity catchphrase, a cineologist is something that you, too, can aspire to! Like any homegrown ecologist sporting a WWF T-shirt (that’s World Wildlife Foundation, not some weirdo wrestling slogan) I also endeavor to preserve rare species and encourage their ability to flourish and reproduce — of film, that is. Because a cineologist, of course, is plainly put a film fanatic bent on sharing the beauty of endangered cinema with the rest of the world.

So it is with Felidae, a 1994 German animated film of rare beauty that approximately 98% of the English-speaking world has not heard of. What is most peculiar is that this film is not difficult to follow, experimental, or abstract — things which tend to repel mass reception in American audiences — instead, this film is a classic murder mystery, with a mystery interesting enough to spend time figuring out along with the characters. Of course, since the story is about murder, this film is not standard family fare. In fact, the violence is probably graphic enough to turn most faint hearts away; but for those who stay, the reward is rich indeed.

Based on a novel of the same name written by Akif Pirinicci, Felidae‘s protagonist is a cat named Francis who has recently moved into a new neighborhood with his clueless owner, Gus. He quickly meets another cat, a male ominously named Bluebeard, while exploring his new backyard. Unfortunately, their meeting is not a happy occasion, as it occurs over the corpse of a tomcat whose head has been nearly severed from his neck. Francis teams up with Bluebeard, and they form a good cat/bad cat duo intent on uncovering the killer (or killers) responsible for a chain of murders stretching much further back than it at first appears to.

What Francis does not anticipate (it was probably not a selling point of the real estate agency) is that his new home includes a suicidal cat cult on the second story, an abandoned laboratory in the attic, and further weird experimental equipment in the basement — all of which are connected to a cat called Claudandus. To further complicate the crimes is the fact that many of the murder victims were sexually aroused at the time of their deaths.

What will be unexpected to the average viewer is how well the Don Bluth-esque character designs of the cats, and the vividly colored backgrounds, marry the violent subject matter. The animation itself is very fluid, reminiscent of Disney (or of Bluth again, who is himself a Disney ex-pat), with a feeling of perhaps being shot on 2s (more Disney on TV than feature fare). This familiar territory would normally be an unexpected locale for such violence and gore, but because the gore is animated (as opposed to some gruesome live action attempt) it is easier to accept, and allows the viewer to focus more intently on the story itself.

To put it another way, because the viewer is reassured that the violence is not real through the film’s visual style, the audience feels safe enough to trust the storyteller to not actually injure any animals, while the grisly spectacle serves to keep the spectator uneasy and engaged in the thriller/murder mystery aspects of the film. This attempt to color violence with art is often reflected of course in other art forms — such as comics, or live action films like Italian gialli — but rarely found in (mainstream/American) animated features.

Because I got hold of a dub (instead of a subtitled version, which I would have preferred), I feel that I missed out on some better writing and voice acting than I experienced — after all, Akif Pirinicci himself co-wrote the screenplay, and the original German vocal cast appeared to be a strong one. As it was, in the dub much of the voice acting felt “off” emotionally, while the individual voices of the characters themselves felt unevenly written — that is to say that certain lines did not seem to suit many characters who had been built up to act and appear a certain way. I blame this entirely on a poor translation, as the original acting I briefly witnessed on the German trailer seemed much more emotionally genuine and cohesive.

The only other flaw in this film would be the very last scene — the epilogue of the film — where Francis too-cheerfully narrates a moralistic set of candy apple hopes for the future. Alright, I misspoke, the very final flaw in the film would be the title song written and performed by Boy George, which actually contains the lyrics: “Cat killer on the loose/Deep Purple is dead/Cat killer on the loose/Yes”. Thankfully, this musical mishap is limited to the opening and closing credits, and fails to rear its misfortunate head during the actual story.

But the good practically drowns the bad; the dream sequences were quite stunning, in particular look for very fluid mutations in the first one, and in the second a morbid sea of eviscerated cats manipulated by master puppeteer, Gregor Mendel. The fades and xerography used in this scene are exquisite, and quite perfectly evoke the sensation of being trapped in an overwhelming nightmare.

Also, the lighting in the film is very strong and brightly colored — combined with fluid pans and tilts, it evokes the feel of an Italian giallo or a German Expressionist city-cage, where characters can run all they like, but are inevitably entangled in the angles and shadows of a tale far bigger than themselves.

So, join me in cinematic preservation — become a cineologist today so that we may experience this masterfully done sex-crime thriller with beautiful subtitled prints and a gluttony of extras. Email some of your favorite distributors (I’m personally tackling Blue Underground and Mondo Macabro) today! Save the endangered Felidae, and let it roam free across the rolling western plains, from DVD collections to store aisles, as it was meant to!

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  • Chris Sobieniak

    Guess I’m the first to comment about this film. I first got to see it a few years ago personally, and found it to be everything that you said it was (I thought the ending was a tad off in terms of completion, but then I had to go buy the book and read that to the end, so I’m OK about it). I though would say the animation was as standard as what we came to expect by the mid 90’s in the US, but it’s content is one that was unusual and unheardof by our standards (who else could give you cat decapitations and a make-out scene like this one?), and of course, the character design is pretty much in the Disney/Bluthian sort of mindset (let alone I’m still impressed at contemplating that sex scene and how well they pulled it off with characters who often appear gender neutral between the legs, you just can’t question that too much, but it’s nice to have a film that admits these guys can do it than to forgo any such behavior). This is a film that has the balls to go beyond the expectations I might’ve had before watching it. It’s rather a shame it was never released over here (would’ve been OK on video as opposed to the cienma if that was the best method).

  • Toongirl

    Outside of the fantastic dream sequences, the rest of the film’s animation quality is only slightly better than Saturday morning cartoon fare. You can’t compare it to Disney/Bluth, even Disney _TV_ animation is better than most of this film. Some of the secondary character designs leave a lot to be desired as well. The main story plots are also told in a most uneven, almost offhand way which can be partially blamed on the bad English dubbing.

    Be that as it may, it is a brave film and kudos to the studio with the guts to take on the subject matter of Filidae.

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