Writer: Cesar Perlop
Director: Alejandro Ríos
Animation has long broken away from its childhood associations and is now frequently applied to troubling subjects, using the simplicity of the cartoon form to act as an allegory of human experiences. Alejandro Ríos’ 2016 film The Cats (Los Gatos) has been submitted to the online We Are One Festival from the Guadalajara Film Festival and it makes for difficult viewing.
In a cold alleyway, an old man finds an abandoned cat which he welcomes into his home. Fed with milk several times a day the skittish grey and white tabby lives in the garden with a large collection of black felines also cared for by the old man. When the tabby is selected for special treatment and welcomed indoors, its life seems set to improve, only nothing is as it seems.
There is a lot to admire in the style and execution of this silent 9-minute short, an atmospheric examination of loneliness and the need for some form of connection. It opens with a blusey score as the old man drawn in angular shapes notices the stray cat and takes it home. It’s all a bit Breakfast at Tiffany’s and, you hope, the start of a heart-warming tale of decency and mutual affection.
Even the inclusion of dream sequences in which our moggy protagonist floats on a sea of milk using a giant milk carton as a raft, tapping gently at the surface as its paw creates hexagonal ripples, is skilfully achieved, while the creation of domestic interiors from patterned wallpaper and anodyne backdrops including the light reflecting from a turntable are impressively constructed illustrations.
What happens next is not easy to reconcile even in animated form with (spoiler alert) the story becoming a metaphor for domestic violence and, in the Director’s words, “co-dependency.” There are scenes of animal cruelty that will cause you to wrestle with your own acceptance of what you want to see on film, the soundscape and visual evocation of pain a shocking and sudden volte face that takes the film in quite another direction.
Perhaps most heartrending is the final moment as the inevitability of the conclusion sinks in and the cycle of abuse begins again. On the one hand, this is a stark and thought-provoking depiction of the narrowing options that leave the individual with nowhere to go while at the same time it is incredibly difficult, even horrible, to watch, ending with a hopelessness that is haunting.
Whether or not animated animal cruelty is the right form for this story is a tricky call, but Ríos achieves his aim of shaking the audience out of its complacency. It certainly leaves no doubt of its message, but for some this will be impossible to watch.
Available here until 8 June 2020. Donations welcome