sat 02/03/2024

Blu-ray: The Cassandra Cat | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: The Cassandra Cat

Blu-ray: The Cassandra Cat

Stylish, surreal fantasy in a gleaming new print

'This really happened...' Mourek in 'The Cassandra Cat'Second Run

As films involving cats go, The Cassandra Cat (Až přijde kocour) is up there with the best. Part fairy-tale, part political satire, Vojtěch Jasný’s 1963 fantasy, shot on location in the picturesque village of Telcis, is an offbeat, unclassifiable gem. Unsurprisingly, the post-1968 Czech authorities disapproved, withdrawing it from circulation.

Jasný’s characters have their lives turned upside down by the titular feline, a hefty tabby wearing dark glasses. If they're removed, those who the cat gazes at will change colour according to their nature.

A prologue features Jan Werich’s affable Oliva, gazing down at the village from a clock tower, breaking the third wall and introducing the residents. He’s later seen telling a class of children about his having fallen in love many years ago with a magician’s assistant carrying said animal, the lesson suddenly interrupted by the sounds of a circus rumbling into town. Robert, their frazzled-looking teacher (a winning performance from Vlastimil Brodský), is transfixed by the sight of Emília Vášáryová’s luminous Diana (pictured below), clad in a red leotard and carrying a bespectacled cat, Mourek.Diana in Cassandra CatThe Magician (also played by Werich) puts on a "black light" show in the village, the props manipulated by invisible assistants. An initially enthralled audience becomes twitchy as they see themselves mocked, before the magician explains the significance of particular tints and Diana appears on a trapeze.

Her removing the cat’s glasses is the cue for one of the most visually arresting sequences you’ll ever see, assorted residents showing, literally, their true colours. Those in love turn bright red, liars purple, thieves grey, and the unfaithful yellow, the transformations achieved with make-up, costume changes, and lighting effects. It’s intriguing to read that because a suitably vibrant red body paint wasn’t available Jasný used his political contacts to source what was required from Max Factor in Hollywood.

Robert and Diana embark on a whirlwind romance, while the escaped Mourek is pursued by the enraged authorities desperate to prevent further humiliation. The children in Robert’s class ultimately save the day, covering the town’s buildings with cat paintings and announcing via Robert’s blackboard that they’re leaving in protest at how he and Mourek have been mistreated. Robert’s obsequious boss duly gets his comeuppance in an eye-popping finale that Jacques Demy would have admired. Does Robert get the girl? Watch and find out.

Blu-ray: The Cassandra CatThe Cassandra Cat’s mixture of fantasy, indignation, and defiance shows Jasný operating at the peak of his powers. His much darker All My Good Countrymen (1968) won him a Best Director award at the 1969 Cannes Festival; when that film was banned, Jasný left Czechoslovakia in protest.

Jan Werich might have become globally famous had he played the cat-canoodling Blofeld in 1967’s You Only Live Twice, producer Cubby Broccoli deciding after a few days’ filming that he lacked sufficient menace and replacing him with Donald Pleasance. 

This 2021 restoration of The Cassandra Cat looks and sounds immaculate. The booklet contains an entertaining and informative essay by Cerise Howard. Plus, there’s a wonderful bonus in the shape of Badly Painted Hen (Špatně namalovaná slepice), an animated short directed by one of Jasný’s screenwriters, Jiří Brdečka. A sly plea for artistic freedom, it’s very funny, particularly when we catch a fleeting glimpse of what a teacher is actually reading while her young charges attempt to draw a hen.

@GrahamRickson

Jasný used his political contacts to source red make-up from Max Factor in Hollywood

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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