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Cannes 2019: Palme des Whiskers

Headline in the New Cat Times: “Cannes Film Festival Bans Feline Actors!” “Eek, how did I not see this before we got on the plane?” squeals Siamese beauty Nico, stretched out on her seat on Air Felix. “You were too busy preening in the mirror,” says her housemate Chubbs. “Well, your scruffy striped coat could use a little of that,” she snaps, her paws trembling with rage as she reads the shocking report.

“May 2, Paris: Thierry Fremaux, artistic director of the 72nd Cannes International Film Festival, today announced that films featuring feline actors in lead roles would be excluded from this year’s festival. ‘We’ve had enough,’ says Fremaux. ‘They’re taking jobs from human stars. We need to protect our economy. Cats already dominate the Internet, but they won’t get Cannes if I can help it.’”

In Cannes, deep inside the fabulous Palais des Kittycats, where this year’s feline jury would be expecting to award the annual “Palme des Whiskers for Best Feline Performance, all is not well. Chubbs and Nico, who have slipped away from their house staff, filmmaker Sandi Tan, and Los Angeles Times critic John Powers, storm into the VIP suite and run into Orson, who is already wearing his plush tuxedo, thanks to his valet, Indiewire critic Eric Kohn. 

“I know,” says Orson. “How will the other jury cats handle it?” “I heard that Gus had to be sedated when he found out.” Just then, Gus staggers in, his hind legs a little shaky. His sleek tuxedo is freshly groomed thanks to wardrobe mistress Marian Masone, who moonlights for Art Basel. “I’d like to get my claws into the people in charge,” he says. “Female humans think they have it bad, being marginalized at the festival every year. What about us cats?”

“Don’t mind me,” shreiks Layla, crazy as ever, as she makes a long leap through the suite’s swinging cat door. “I started life on Death Row, so I can handle anything, or so my maid Amy Taubin, says, when she’s not slinking off to write for Art Forum.” “What’s the trouble here?” inquires Bob, with a big yawn. “I had to wake up my personal assistant Manohla Dargis, who’s always fooling around with the New York Times, just to get here.”

“What have we got to work with?” asks Chubbs. “As a result of the ban, we’re looking at just a few bit-part performances.” “Wait a minute,” says Gus. “There was a feature film called ‘Apocalypse Meow,’ in the film market, and it had an all-feline cast.” “That was the market, you goof. We’re talking about art here,” says Bob. “Anyway, it looked like just a home movie about cats sleeping,” chimes in Layla. “Well, I’d like to think there is a feline Andy Warhol out there,” huffs Orson.

“I think I’m gonna barf if we don’t face reality,” yawns Nico. “What are we going to do with this sorry lineup: an assortment of street cats with run-on parts in ‘Oh Mercy,’ ‘Tommaso,’ ‘Once in Trubchervsk,’ and in ‘Les Miserables,’ a lion cub, if you can believe that. “There was a professional feline actor named Little Man in the short ‘White Echo,’” adds Orson helpfully, “And the feline star of an earlier film by that director, Chloe Sevigny, won the Palme des Whiskers in 2016. Can’t we have a two-time Palme winner like the humans do?” 

“It’s bigger than just a prize,” says Bob. “What we need is a statement that will show the world the power of cats. We can’t let the festival have the last word.” Right on cue, Miss Kitty, the mistress of ceremonies for the Palme des Whiskers pads in. “I have an idea,” she says, “They ban us, so we’ll boycott them back.” “We’ll take to the streets in protest; we’ll go to the barricades. The cats of the world will unite behind us in solidarity.” “How trendily French,” observes Chubbs. “Will there be free food, like at the ceremony?”  

“What a great idea,” say Orson, already changing his traditional black bowtie for a bright yellow one. “How about we all get yellow collars as a symbol?” suggests Gus, “Like those humans in Paris with their yellow vests.”

And so it goes. Miss Kitty calls in favors all over Cannes to make the arrangements, and thousands of yellow collars are ready for the feline guests who had been arriving for the now-cancelled Palme des Whiskers ceremony. Falling in proudly behind an honor guard of French Army cats, they pour out of the Palais des Kitty Cats in huge numbers and start making their way up the Croisette toward the Palais des Festivals, to make their mighty howl of protest in front of the place where the humans are giving their exclusionary awards.

The protest grows, and cats pour out of every street and alley in Cannes, numbers swelling by the minute. Even the immigrant cats from Italy, who came to Cannes in search of better hunting opportunities, slink out of their hiding places and join up.

“Let’s just duck down this side street for a minute,” sniffs Chubbs to Nico. “I sense that we’re near a little place that does a tasty mouse brochette.” “Oh, please, I haven’t eaten a mouse in years,” she snarls. “Shut up and walk - we’re making feline history here.”   

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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