Sometimes silence can speak more than a thousand words, and that is what the viewers learn when they watch Pierre Granier-Deferre’s film Le Chat (The cat). Le Chat is perhaps one of the lesser known films produced in France, and not appreciated abroad extensively. The movie may fall under the genre of French Drama though it could be easily placed under Film Noir category, had it been an American movie.
The movie tells the story of a dysfunctional and aged couple who suffer from a communication gap. Julien Bouin, played by Jean Gabin and Clémence Bouin, played by Simone Signoret are characters that reek of melancholy, insecurities of growing old and the existential angst associated with paranoia and mistrust. The couple hardly speak to each other and their house is to be demolished soon.
Greffier, Julien’s pet cat is his object of affection and Clémence cannot tolerate when her husband pays more attention to the cat than to her. Unable to bear the alienation, she snuffs out the innocent cat’s life by shooting it dead. Julien deserts his wife in grief and anger and beings to live in an inn while Clémence grows mentally and physically ill.
When she can no longer bear to stay alone in the desolate house, she visits the park Julien usually visits to take a walk and both stare at each other’s faces everyday without a word ever passing their wrinkled lips. As luck would have it, Julien decides to come back home to Clémence. Excited at the thought of having him back at home, she dresses herself up only to die of a cardiac arrest soon as he enters the house. Julian chooses to die with her and ignores the cranes and machinery that set to demolish the house with him, alive inside.
Perhaps Le Chat is one of those films where all the major characters are victims and their lives end tragically. The Cat, though hardly of any particular significance is able to create feelings of jealousy and insecurity in the old woman and dies a death which is unusual for a pet. Its tragedy perhaps is the most ignored and most taken for granted. For no fault of its own, it stands victimized but its death invariably decides the fate of the other two important characters of the movie.
Clémence cannot expect to be forgiven and dies an agonizingly lonely death waiting for Julien to come home, forgive and accept her. Julien on the other hand loses his companion Griffier and when he decides to forgive and live with his wife, she is already dead. The futility of jealousy, insecurity and also that of love and forgiveness is explicitly conveyed in a movie that hardly has any words spoken except for the gunshots that kill the cat and its mewing.
The futility of life itself and the helplessness of existence is portrayed in the cat’s life and death. While so much could be written, spoken and performed about various emotions, relationships, feelings and of life itself, Le Chat conveys the futility of it all in an heart rending but simple movie that centres around the cat and nondescript family.