Before my recent viewing of “The Cat Vanishes”, I was unaware of its Argentinean director, Carlos Sorin. Apparently this film is a departure from the usual types of realistic and simple dramas that Sorin is known for and in a recent interview with him, he has stated that this one off experiment would be just that. The reason for this is because he found the stylized world of his Hitchcock homage to be an incredibly hard film to make. Watching the film you would not know it because Sorin has created such a great little film, he always seems in total control of it, and it is a shame that he will not make another suspense thriller like this again. When it comes to the homage of the work of master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, many have tried, but amazingly a lot fail, however Sorin has done a brilliant job of creating the wonderful suspense of a Hitchcock film without totally aping his style.
The film is about a middle aged couple, Luis and Beatriz, who are both trying to readapt to one another after Luis’ forced stay at a mental institution after a serious and violent breakdown. Luis, before the breakdown, was a mild mannered and kind man who appeared not to have a violent bone in his body. He was happily married to Beatriz for many, many years and worked as a teacher at the local university. However that all changed one day when he suspected that his friend and assistant at the university, Fourcade, was trying to steal his lifelong work; his magnum opus he was wanting to be published. The paranoia in his mind caused him to snap and he violently lashed out at both Fourcade and his own wife with whom he accused of being a traitor and helping Fourcade in the deception. After his stay in the institution and being put under specific medication, Luis’ doctors concluded that he was cured and that the likelihood of him recommitting his crimes was nil, thus he is released into the care of his wife. While Luis is now well and medicated and Beatriz has forgiven him understanding he was not himself during his attack, the memory of what happened isn’t easily forgotten by both, making it hard to adjust to each other once more. Beatriz is still terrified that it may all happen again, while Luis is just trying to get on with his life, all knowing what he did to the person he loves most. It isn’t until the family cat goes missing though that Beatriz starts to seriously think that Luis may not be cured after all. Just prior to the cat disappearing, Luis had an altercation with it, and Beatriz starts thinking the worst. Not only that but Luis’ weird behavior like hearing noises that no one else can hear, or manically reorganizing his bookcases at three in the morning, give Beatriz more cause to concern. Is Luis really cured or is his weird behavior just his way of readapting to life outside of the institution? Does Beatriz have a right to worry or is her imagination getting the better of her?
This is such a great film. Admittedly it is very low key but it is so well made. The opening half an hour of the film travels at a deliberate pace as we meet our main characters and see them dealing with their situation. We witness Luis as he looks at the world with new eyes, almost as though this is the first time he has truly seen everything around him. Meanwhile, Beatriz does her best to act like everything is normal but it is obvious she is concerned. Everybody who comes in contact with her husband she confronts and asks them of their opinion of him, and they are unanimous in thinking he is just like he was before the breakdown. Even with all of this reassurance, Beatriz is still worried, and it really is Beatriz’s film as we predominantly follow her. It is through her eyes that we witness the story of “The Cat Vanishes” as her nerves and imagination make everything Luis does seem sinister and dark. As she gets more and more sure that Luis is still in fact insane, the suspense of the film continues to build and visually it becomes more stylized and dark.
When trying to create an homage to Alfred Hitchcock, one must be aware of his great visual storytelling abilities. Sorin definitely understands this and fills the film with beautifully composed and impeccably staged shots. His camerawork is smooth and expressive but never too flashy that it draws attention to itself. As I mentioned when Beatriz’s paranoia gets the better of her, the film becomes more stylized and Julian Apezteguia gorgeous lighting comes to the forefront. Suddenly shadows play a huge part in the look of the film, as well as the staple of the suspense film: the horizontal blind. Both are used brilliantly causing maximum suspense as the colour of the opening half of the film slowly gives way to darkness towards the end. Some of my favourite shots in “The Cat Vanishes” are when Sorin separates husband and wife in the same shot to create either suspense, drama or suspicion. My favourite example is when Luis is seen on the left hand side of the shot lying on his bed laughing at the television, while on the right hand side we see Beatriz clothed sitting on the toilet crying because she is terrified of her husband. It is a great visual moment and is dramatically palpable. Deliberately Luis’ side of the shot is brightly lit and full of colour, while in the bathroom it is dark and the red walls of the room stand out dramatically. Another shot I loved and that was very Hitchcockian is a close up of Luis holding a knife in the foreground, as Beatriz enters through a door in the background, instantly shocked by the knife. It is so well done, because the way the shot has been framed, we feel exactly what Beatriz feels even though Luis may be doing something innocent with the knife; it is a very dramatic shot. Something that Hitchcock relied on heavily in his films was the subjective shot. What this means is that we first see a shot of a character looking at something, which is then followed up with a shot of what that character is actually seeing. Sorin employs this technique brilliantly as the majority of the second half of “The Cat Vanishes” is told via this subjective method.
From an acting point of view, Beatriz Spelzini (who plays Beatriz) is just magnificent. She is the heart of the film and she carries it brilliantly. Her portrayal of difficult emotions of happiness while still feeling fear, and guilt for not trusting the man she loves all come across powerfully. You really feel for this poor woman. If you think about it, it really is a tough position she is in. She was a victim of her husband’s violent outrage, but it all happened when he was under the influence of a breakdown, and although he is now cured that memory is still with her, so it is only human nature that it would be hard to trust the man she loves so readily again. Through Spelzini’s performance you understand all of this and just how hard it is for her. Luis Luque’s performance (as Luis) is quite a playful one because he has the job of not letting the audience know if he is in fact cured or not, therefore he always has a shifty look in his eye. The scene when he is organizing his bookcase is a good example because that is all he is doing (or is he?) but he looks so guilty when Beatriz catches him. It certainly looks as though Luque had fun with the role.
One thing that I appreciated with “The Cat Vanishes” is the plotting of the film and the fact that when I thought I was ahead of the film, it proved me wrong every time. Carlos Sorin penned the script himself and I loved the fact that it existed within itself from beginning to end. What I mean by this is that its tone was consistent all the way up to the finale. To be honest, “The Cat Vanishes” is a very slight tale, there is no violence, little blood, no obscenities and yet it is packed full of suspense. When it comes to the end of the film, it stays true to what has come before it; it is a simple ending but a brilliant one. It doesn’t suddenly become an action or a chase film, it stays true to itself. Although the world presented in “The Cat Vanishes” is a stylized one, Sorin also grounds the film in a reality with the characters that fill the world doing things that are quite normal in the situation faced. Like I said above, Sorin fills the story with moments that appear to be twists but turn out to be something all together different, but like everything else in this film, they fit perfectly with the story being told and never feel out of place.
Another thing that I must make mention of is Nicolas Sorin’s (yes, he is the director’s son; talk about nepotism) fantastic score. It actually has an old fashioned quality to it and early on it is quite playful, however by the end of the film it turns into a full on suspense score while at the same time never being derivative of anything from the past.
Overall, I thought Carlos Sorin’s Hitchcock homage was a delightful film. He added the Hitchcock elements perfectly to the film from the title (which is obviously a take-off of “Vertigo”, I joke, it is “The Lady Vanishes”), to scenes of characters eating, the psychological mumbo jumbo of doctors and best of all, the visual side of Hitchcock’s genius. While “The Cat Vanishes” is a slight film, it is a perfectly executed tale that keeps you guessing until the end. It is endlessly suspenseful and has a great kick in its tail. It also has a fantastic dream sequence that is beautifully disguised as reality. I recommend it whole heartedly and think it is a film that will be re-watched significantly in my own home.