AJFF Review: “The Rabbi’s Cat”

AJFF Review: “The Rabbi’s Cat”

By John McCurdy / Managing Editor //

If “The Rabbi’s Cat” were a drink, it would be a craft beer.

I know, I know – “a cartoon is like an alcoholic beverage?!” – but bear with me as I highlight the parallels between this animated film adaptation of Joann Sfar’s French-language graphic novels and your favorite microbrew.

First, it is not for kids, despite any sort of a colorful exterior. Much like craft beers have the most creative and striking labels in the store, “The Rabbi’s Cat” too has an enchanting aesthetic, one that might appeal to youngsters.

However, there are a handful of scenes here that are simply not suitable (nor fully comprehensible) for the younger crowd, and the presentation in French with English subtitles makes some stretches of quick banter between characters difficult to follow for all but the fastest of readers.

Anyway, back to the initial metaphor: “The Rabbi’s Cat” is further like a craft beer in that, much as an independent brewery will go out on a limb by incorporating unique, subtle or unexpected flavors in varied proportions, this movie has some beautiful themes and undertones to be appreciated by the observant and open-minded viewer.

The tale – of a cat that gains the power of speech by eating the pet parrot of his master, a rabbi – is one of many cultures meeting and blending in the setting of post-World War II Algeria. Here, Jews, Christians and Muslims; North Africans, Russians and Frenchmen; and man and animal come together, and while not everyone gets along, the conflicts and the resolutions thereof have much to say about diversity, tolerance and understanding.

Finally, one more way in which this film is like a craft beer is that both can be immensely rewarding. Just as taking a risk on a lesser-known, out-there brew can result in the discovery of a new favorite, watching “The Rabbi’s Cat” will likely open your eyes to a few ideas and put a smile on your face.

Traveling with Rabbi Sfar and his faithful companion on their episodic adventures – which include meeting up with a Sufi cousin and his singing donkey; receiving a mysterious cargo container that ends up containing a live human being searching for Jerusalem; and traveling across the horn of Africa in a Citroen half-track – is well worth the price of admission.

Visit ajff.org for a full schedule of Atlanta Jewish Film Festival movies.

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