Foreign favorites of the Sarasota Film Festival

Sunday marked the end of the 14th annual Sarasota Film Festival, which brought several countries together in cinematic competition. Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsevs Elena and Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos Alps both took home awards.

In a short but memorable visit to the Sarasota Film Festival, Scene and Heard takes a look at two of the festivals foreign films.

A Cat in Paris

A Cat in Paris, the first full-length film by French directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.

The film opens with a cat, Dino, helping expert jewel thief Nico escape the clutches of two incompetent security guards. After the exciting jewel heist, it is revealed that Dino is living a double life. At night he robs houses in Paris, but during the day he spends his time with his owner Zoe, a small girl who refuses to speak to her mother, Jeanne, since the death of her father. Jeanne is a police detective, who neglects her daughter to catch Victor Costa, the gangster who killed her husband.

The cats two worlds intersect when a curious Zoe follows him to Nicos home. She is unable to follow Nico, who leaps gracefully across Paris rooftops, and heads home only to be captured by Costa. The rest of the film follows the suspenseful story of Dino, Nico and Jeanne all attempting to rescue Zoe from the hands of the gangsters.

Though A Cat in Paris was recommended for older audiences, perhaps because of the difficulty of reading English subtitles, it could have easily been suitable for all ages because of the clarity of the storyline. For example, it is obvious through images that Zoes father was killed by Costa, and Nicos loneliness is shown by his empty apartment. It seems that even younger children would have understood the mood of the film without it being spelled out for them.

However, the style of animation throughout the film makes up for any faulty (repetitive? Obvious? Unnecessary? Idk because I havent seen it but faulty doesnt seem right) exposition. The animation was done by hand and is impressively original. The skyline of Paris is shown multiple times with animation that pays homage to French artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse.

The characters are simple in shape but are expertly shaded, and the most impressive animation occurs in the film during a blackout scene, where the characters are outlined in white against a black background.

Overall, A Cat in Paris combines the clever antics of a neighborhood cat with daring rooftop chases and suspenseful rescue operations. If moviegoers can get past the simple dialogue, the film is worth watching.

11 Flowers

Originally titled I Was 11, this film is set in 1975, during the final year of the Cultural Revolution in China. Director Wang Xiaoshuai is known for creating films like Beijing Bicycle and Drifters, which focus on portraying children and teenagers in a sensitive manner.

11 Flowers is no different. It tells the story of Wang Han (Liu Wenqing), a young boy dealing with life in a village during large societal changes.

Wang Han does not enjoy a simple, carefree childhood and his familys hardships are revealed early in the film. Wang Hans father (Wang Jinchun) teaches his son to paint flowers so that he can become an independent painter will and not need to rely on government jobs. When Wang Hans schoolteacher suggests that he needs a new shirt for gym, his mother Deng (Yan Ni) is furious at having to spend a years worth of fabric coupons for her son.

The shirt becomes a symbol of stained innocence when a fugitive, Xie Jueqiang (Wang Ziyi), hiding in a nearby forest, steals Wang Hans shirt and uses it to close a bullet wound. Wang Hans inner struggle of keeping Jueqiangs hiding spot a secret leads to a strained relationship with his mother and with his schoolyard friends.

The films first-person shots are intriguing and succeed in placing the audience in the shoes of the main character. The sounds of nature bleeds through every scene and add to the realism of the film, especially in the forest where Wang Han first encounters the fugitive.

Of all of the characters in the film, only the father seems unrealistic. Whenever Wang Hans father is shown, he gives seemingly cliched speeches in order to instruct his son on the ways of the world. Its difficult to take the father seriously as a character, especially in comparison to the wonderful acting of Ni as the overbearing mother.

Though 11 Flowers could have ended a few scenes early, its worth sitting through. The tension in the film is constantly relieved by the childish actions of the relatively young cast. Even with serious subjects addressed throughout the film, its still possible for the audience to laugh and get simple joy out of the antics of Wang Han and his friends.