'Strange Little Cat': A journey into the secret life of pets

  • Article by: ROB NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2014 - 9:44 PM

“The Strange Little Cat” finds small dramas in life’s commonplace details.

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Leon Alan Beiersdorf and friend in “The Strange Little Cat.”

Much as its title suggests the wacky feature debut of Lil Bub, “The Strange Little Cat” has nothing to do with the Internet cat video phenomenon and everything to do with the rarer breed of German art cinema.

Still reading? This strange little movie, which premiered locally in April at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival and now streams on Fandor, does indeed feature a cute orange tabby, but it never ingratiates itself to the audience. Instead, director Ramon Zurcher submerges us in a sea of quotidian details so vividly rendered and precisely intertwined that a Berlin family’s tiny apartment comes to represent an entire universe swirling with action.

In the absence of conventional plotting, Zurcher provides a cinematic theory of how the world appears to a domesticated animal — or that’s one interpretation. As a cat meows and paws at the bedroom door of a sleeping teen, a younger kid wails at the breakfast table. Grown-ups grind coffee beans; a glass falls and breaks.

Still more occurs in the 70-minute film. A washing machine spins, as does a bottle. A dog yawns. Someone drops an orange peel or two. Inconsequential words are spoken in a language that might sound foreign. Middle-class humans say the weirdest things.

Hitchcock famously observed that drama is life with the boring parts cut out. “The Strange Little Cat,” at least for those on its feline wavelength, is life’s boring parts made curiously dramatic.

Also notable on VOD

Robin Williams’ death last week reminded me of how few films the actor made in which he seemed to feel fully at home. If the glorious exception to that rule is 1991’s “The Fisher King” (on Netflix with subscription and on Crackle with ads), the reason could well be that, in director Terry Gilliam, Williams found a rare collaborator whose comic imagination — too wild to be contained by a mere movie — matched his own.

Adorned in medieval-looking rags, Williams plays Parry, a proudly unhinged New Yorker who has visions of fire-breathing demons and a firm belief that the Holy Grail is hidden atop a millionaire’s Upper East Side castle. As this homeless guardian angel rescues a drunk and suicidal shock jock (Jeff Bridges) from being set ablaze by punks, the film flirts with buddy-movie formula but remains bizarre.

Particularly now, Williams’ joyous and at times even calm turn in the film suggests his relief at being a crew member on Gilliam’s pirate ship rather than anchoring another Hollywood luxury liner by himself. Careening uncontrollably from the elegiac to the apocalyptic, “The Fisher King” is an embarrassment of extremity, flawed only in the sense that, like Williams, it has too much on its mind.

By the way, Gilliam’s latest head-scratcher, “The Zero Theorem,” will be available on VOD starting Tuesday, although fans of the director’s ornately surreal visuals may prefer to see the film projected at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis, where it is scheduled to open Sept. 19.

Send questions or comments to Rob Nelson at VODcolumn@gmail.com.

  • TOP 10 MOVIES ON DEMAND

    1 “Noah”

    2 “Heaven Is for Real”

    3 “Rio 2”

    4 “The Other Woman”

    5 “Sabotage”

    6 “Transcendence”

    7 “Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club”

    8 “Bad Words”

    9 “The Lego Movie”

    10 “Lone Survivor”

    Source: Rentrak Corp. (July 28-Aug. 3)

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