The Rabbi’s Cat (2011): A Critique and Bringing Together of Religions and Cultures


     This review is going to be a little different from the ones I do before as it was one that my friend Matthew and I discussed doing, that each of would review a film in each other’s style. Matthew is a writer at “The 10th Man.” He’s really good and writes about a diverse range of topics, primarily focused on media. Here is the link to his website:

    He has already reviewed “The Rabbi’s Cat” in a style inspired by mine, so now I am going to do the same.

  “The Rabbi’s Cat,” was directed by Joann Sfar (who also wrote the comic, screenplay and was one of the producers) and Antoine Delesvaux and based on the comic book of the same title. It is beautiful animated (with the exception of the strange style changes at different parts that make it more cartoony) but the film largely works because of the themes it explores which are ones of how cultures and religions clash and the ways they and people can come to understandings, as well as critiquing the different religions and cultures too, through the eyes of the Rabbi’s Cat. The film also explores what it means to be an individual in a group and what makes a good person.

     We see the exploration of culture from the beginning when the Rabbi’s Cat gets the ability to speak after eating the Rabbi’s Parrot and after wants to become Jewish because it is the only way the Rabbi will let him spend time with his daughter. We see the Rabbi change though as the more extreme Rabbi once the cat killed for claiming to be God and questioning everything. Algerian Jewish culture is explored through the Rabbi as well as Russian culture through the explorer and the Russian painter and through the Sufi Sheikh we get to explore the many African cultures as they are following the painters dream to find Jerusalem, which to them is a nation of Black Jews where there is no racism and intolerance. It’s a beautiful exploration that is done and you can tell that those involved did their research on all the different groups explored in the story.

     There is also a critique of culture that we see as well. This movie is not Morally Relative, which I liked. At one point a desert tribe the Sheikh knows helps them heal the Rabbi’s cat. But things soon turn to violence as the youngest one was itching for a fight and we soon see how superior they act and feel, much like the French and in Algeria in relationship to the Jews like the Rabbi. In both cases this dehumanizing of the other leads to violence as the Russian explorer gets killed by the tribe and we see how outsiders are treated like their women. If you’re not in the group, you are out of sight and out of mind. We also see the critique of Conservative Jewish culture through the cat who uses Science to question the Torah, and through the Rabbi’s daughter, who just wants choice in her life. This narrative continues throughout the entire film.

    The third theme is that of what identity means and what it means to be a good person. I think the Sufi Sheikh sums it up best in relationship to God. “I just imagine that God is a decent person and live from that.” It is this that helps the Rabbi become comfortable in giving the African barmaid and the Russian Painter a Jewish wedding even though she doesn’t believe in God and the Russian isn’t a practicing Jew. This core decency and respect of others is how the Rabbi’s cat change too. The cat starts out as a liar but in the end is looking out for the others and is quiet when he needs to be so his friends don’t get in trouble. The cat learns empathy just like the Rabbi and together they become more like each other in realizing they don’t know who God is or what it means to be Jewish, or a talking cat, but that won’t stop them from caring for people or living a good life.

      There really is only one scene that was troubling and that was when they find the Jewish Ethiopian Kingdom and things get overly cartoony. The tribe is presented as savage giants and it becomes a whole slapstick event that clashes with everything prior. This is still a favorite film, but that whole sequence really took away from everything that had occurred up to that moment. The cat was comedic relief again, the tribesmen were presented as idiots and it’s only purpose was to show that the idealized Jerusalem would be one they would have to create for themselves. That’s a great message, but because of how it’s presented the message feels a little cheapened. If you are looking for an amazing, French, surreal, animated film with a point you should check this one out. There is far more to like in this film than not, and it is a favorite for a reason.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10.

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