Cat in the Wall

 

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A low-income Bulgarian family struggles to stay sane in contemporary South-East London.

 

Cat in the Wall

Irina Atanasova

  

Cat in the Wall is a frustrating experience on several fronts. The core idea is a good one – that is, to explore classism, racism and xenophobia in South-East London through the experience of a low-income immigrant family. At least, the concept has potential. 

 

Unfortunately, the drama feels fairly unfocused. There are several interweaving plot threads. The family we follow is from Bulgaria and is struggling to find work in the fields they are trained for in a country that does not recognize foreign work experience or even values foreign education. The apartment complex the family lives in is being renovated without their permission (or consultation), and they are forced to find a way to stop the process, or at least to avoid footing the bill. The young son finds and adopts what at first appears to be a stray cat, but is actually a runaway belonging to their aggressive and xenophobic neighbours. All of these stories are interspersed with heavy-handed speeches about politics, the current social climate and, inevitably, Brexit. 

 

There is little diegetic cohesion in the narrative. It is easy to track the message, since each plot thread falls under the same thematic umbrella, but the actual story lines end abruptly, with little sense of satisfactory resolution. The dialogue is all fairly blunt and informative, with little of it feeling natural. Characters come off as comical in their ignorance. While there are no doubt real people who speak and behave the way these characters do, the lack of subtlety in the film's text prevents the audience from doing any critical thinking and reaching a conclusion for themselves.

 

And yet, despite these shortcomings, there is heart aplenty. The film is humorous enough to stay engaging till the end. The Bulgarian family of Irena, Vladimir and Jojo are all wonderfully distinct and portrayed with charisma: the audience has no choice but to become endeared to them and to sympathise with their situation. While some of the on-screen events may come off as over-the-top, the core of the film is very real, an extrapolation of what countless immigrants and working class people go through daily. 

 

Cat in the Wall is a narrative piece of fiction, but made by documentary filmmakers, which becomes apparent in the visual presentation and storytelling style. It lends it a somewhat distinguished texture, and illustrates the 'realism' well. Perhaps bluntness isn't a bad thing in this case. Like so many films in recent years, Cat in the Wall seeks to educate audiences, to expose ingrained and inherent cultural biases. The endeavour is admirable, the message clear. If only there was a bit more polish.

 

CALEB JOHN CUSHING

 

Cast: Irina Atanasova, Angel Genov, Orlin Asenov, Gilda Waugh, Jon-Jo Inkpen, Chinwe Nwokolo, Kadisha Gee Kamara.

 

Dir Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva, Pro Lambros Atteshlis, Christophe Bruncher, Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva, Screenplay Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva, Ph Dimitar Kostov, Pro Des Yulia Kunova, Ed Donka Ivanova, Music Andy Cowton.

 

Ici et Là Productions/Activist38-South By Southwest Film Festival.

92 mins. Bulgaria/UK/France. 2019. SXSW debut: 27 April 2020. No Cert.