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Cannes 2018: Palme des Whiskers

Two weeks at the 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival have been leading up to just one celebrated event—the awarding of the Palme des Whiskers, coveted award for the festival’s Best Feline Performance. An elegant jury has gathered for the final deliberations in a luxuriously appointed lounge backstage of the Palais des Kittycats, a glittering architectural gem of the Cannes beachfront, powered with ecological economy entirely by thousands of caged mice running on wheels.  

Meanwhile, the pampered one-percent of the world’s most privileged felines pad to the security checkpoint down a carpet of wild-caught red-dyed rodent pelts. As usual, the FFFA (Feline Film Festivals Authority) has engaged the cooperation of other species as part of the security detail. Ercole, the yappy little Chihuahua of “Happy as Lazzaro” barks out orders to the contingent from the ensemble cast of “Dogman.”  

The champion bull of “3 Faces” has pledged to block the street with his considerable bulk if there are any threats. It’s a veritable Peaceable Kingdom of inter-species cooperation. My own Miss Kitty, Mistress of Ceremonies, takes the precaution of inspecting the lineup, especially relishing the sight of the honor guard of French Army cats with their titanium-tipped claws and jaunty berets.

Before the official fun begins, some catfights are assured. Let’s sneak into the jury’s inner sanctum as quiet as mice, and find out what’s happening.

Mimi, last year’s Palme des Whiskers winner, and the venerable feline French New Wave star of Agnes Varda’s “Faces Places,” is ready to defend herself with a threatening paw, as pointy-faced Lola, screeches, “I’m here to support #MeToo, and you said it was going to be a majority-female jury, like that other one headed by Cat Blanchett.” “That’s Cate, you birdbrain,” smirks slinky Siamese Nico, “And I know on the best authority that it’s a pinky-skin human, not a cat, because my butler John Powers, who I let moonlight at Vogue, told me.”

Lola, who hired her personal assistant Marian Masone away from Art Basel, is not easily calmed, especially when a stripey yawning Chubbs, whose maid, filmmaker Sandi Tan callously forgot to pack his pillow, chimes in sleepily with, “I thought they said #MeowToo, because I’m definitely ready for that!”  “I’m new at this,” pipes up grey-and-white Pishool, who just got in from Tehran with her press agent Mohammad Atebbai of Iranian Independents. “Will one of you cats please tell me what’s going on?”

“Time’s running out, so let’s get down to business,” says Madame President, taking a quick sip from her water bowl. Chubbs begins with, “I’m all for ‘Jintan,’ that cutie with the fine black tail who napped and swatted toys so evocatively in “Asako I & II.” “Count me in on that! What a performance—she even gave the good luck wave with her paw” says Nico, who rarely agrees with her half-brother about anything.  “Back off, you two, interjects, dapper Orson, whose valet, Eric Kohn of Indiewire, had just brushed his evening outfit: “’Boil,” that lovely seal-point Siamese of “Burning” gave the best performance of the year.” “Wasn’t she missing for more than half the film?” queries sharp-eyed Pishool. “I’d call a missing cat no cat.” 

“That mongrel isn’t even 100% Siamese; and by the way, you look like you slept in that bow tie,” snaps Nico to Orson. “Uh, now that you mention it, you aren’t actually 100% Siamese either,” whispers Chubbs. Bob, whose New York Times assistant Manohla Dargis made sure his velvety white gloves were in order, steps in with, “Stop the spats; are we here to argue the finer points of breed characteristics or to judge acting?”  

“I vote for ‘Krooga’ the tuxedo tom in ‘Ayka;’ he had a big close-up and a huge speaking part, and it was an action role too,” says grey-coated James, who has been shyly licking his scratches, the result of a jealous attack by his roommate Leyla, who served on last year’s jury, but was passed over this time around due to the betrayal of their maid Amy Taubin of Art Forum. “Whatever. Are you really wearing white socks with that trendy grey tuxedo?” asks Pishool, slightly off the subject.

“Before we take a final vote, do we need to discuss some other performances?” asks Mimi. “What about that slinky black tomcat who writhed in the arms of a rock musician in ‘Leto;’ or, what about the Ukrainian lap-cat in ‘Donbass?’” “Bit parts all,” proclaims Orson. “Forget them, along with the so-called basket of kittens that’s only seen in a distant long shot in ‘Sorry Angel,’” pronounces Bob.

It’s time for the jury to file out onstage, and the audience is keyed up, already high on catnip cocktails, and licking their chops over the grilled sardine banquet to come. The human commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1968 rebellion was a festival bust, but the FFFA has not forgotten. In a brilliant move to one-up of Jean-Luc Godard’s famous stunt, fifty feisty kittens hang on the Palais des Kittycats curtains as they open. “If there’s one thing we cats know to perfection, it’s hanging on curtains,” remarks Lola approvingly. 

Velvet pillows await the eight jurors, and Miss Kitty steps up to the microphone. “Madame President, have you reached a decision?” The applause of padded paws greets Mimi, a feline legend whose sage advice has guided Agnes Varda to years of success. She claws open the envelope to announce “Boil” the winner of the 2018 Palme des Whiskers for her skittish come-get-me performance in “Burning.”  

“Boil” leaps to the stage, trembling with delight to accept the gleaming prize, a spray of 18-carat gold whiskers in the shape of the iconic palm branch. As she makes her grateful speech, a few catty comments are heard from down in the audience. “She’s short on acting chops, but the awards always go to the pretty face, don’t they?” sniffs one jealous shorthair in a Bulgari collar. “Siamese, my eye,” snarls a matronly tabby—“just look at that fluffy tail.”

Barbara Scharres

Barbara Scharres is the former Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a public program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

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