Az prijde kocour, AKA When the Cat Comes
DIRECTED BY: Vojtech Jasný
FEATURING: Jan Werich, Emília Vásáryová, Vlastimil Brodský
PLOT: A magical cat reveals people’s true natures leading to whimsy and chaos.
COMMENTS: On the surface, the movies of the Czech New Wave (1963-1968) seem vastly different from typical cinema, but they aren’t. Not really. See, starting in 1945, when the film industry in Czechoslovakia was nationalized, the country’s cinema became stultified. Even small children could predict the outcome of every story. But in the early sixties there was a de-Stalinization within the Czech Artistic Council, and that led to an explosion of creativity: the Czech New Wave.
Films as strikingly different from one another as Daisies (1966) and A Report on the Party and Guests (1966) share not only this sociopolitical background but also a similar sense of absurdity and surrealism.
Why this Film Studies 101 intro? Because The Cassandra Cat (1963) (aka When the Cat Comes, The Cat Who Wore Sunglasses, One Day a Cat, and That Cat) makes a lot more sense in context.
A magician and his troupe come to a small town. They bring with them a cat wearing sunglasses. During the magic show, we learn the direct and rather impassive glare of the cat reveals a person’s true colors: literally. People turn entirely yellow if they are guilty of infidelity, purple if they are “social climbers” (we might say “brown nosers”), gray if thieves, and of course red if when they’re in love. Much chaos and hilarity ensues.
The Cassandra Cat is witty and whimsical, never passing up an opportunity to take a jab at authority, which is shown as anti-art and, through hunting and taxidermy, as anti-life itself. Our hero, a third grade teacher, is pro-art, anti-death, and all red when the cat looks at him, as he is smitten with the magician’s assistant.
The cat gets lost and falls into the wrong hands. The children protest by going into hiding. The parents lose their cool each in their own way, and in one delightful scene stand on tree stumps in the forest calling out their children’s names under the direction of a conductor. In the end the teacher does not get to keep true love (which thwarts the predictable Artistic Council code), but he does get a class of happy and creative students.
The Cassandra Cat uses experimental special effects throughout. Some of these, such as the process used to color those who have been seen by the cat, made restoration of the film quite tricky.
The Cassandra Cat‘s story is thin. Many scenes seem to have no purpose except to have fun, which in itself could have been rebellion against previous (and future) restrictions. The Czech New Wave essentially ended when Soviet tanks rolled in and crushed the Prague Spring in 1968.
See, doesn’t a cat wearing sunglasses lest he expose people’s true natures make more sense when you have that Cold War background?
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Part family fable and part surreal acid trip… Usually surreal, hallucinogenic films are also dark and moody, but Cat is unusual in this regard. It is a bittersweet film that never loses its sense of innocence, despite the wild scenes from the town square.”–Joe Bendel, J.B. Spins