Mental illness and its affect on the relationships of the afflicted are at the forefront of the slow-building mystery The Cat Vanishes. The Argentinean film exercises restraint in its tension-mounting storyline which follows both a literal and figural cat and mouse game between a husband and wife and their pet cat.
As the film opens, we meet Beatriz (Beatriz Spelzini) a middle-aged woman who has come to collect her husband, history professor Luis (Luis Luque) from a mental institution. Luis has been at the institution since a mental breakdown and violent behaviour caused by delusions that his teaching colleague has been stealing his life’s worth of research. Beatriz is unsure if Luis is cured, despite the assurance of doctors, but brings him back to their home to see if he can settle in to a normal life again. When family feline Donatello reacts poorly to Luis’ homecoming and promptly disappears, Beatriz begins to suspect that things might not be back to normal with her husband. As she plunges into deeper despair over the missing pet, fueled by insomnia, suspicion, and worry, The Cat Vanishes becomes a riveting suspense film.
Filmmaker Carlos Sorin exercises restraint in the unfolding of the central mystery in the film, for which he also wrote the script for. The Cat Vanishes (El gato desaparece) succeeds through the growing tension of the film which comes to the surface at precisely the right moment, much like a boiling pot of water. Teasing the audiences along the way, the film is full of witty dialogue and subtle tongue-in-cheek humour. A dynamite last act makes the slow pace worth the wait as the film delivers a knock-out punch of an ending.
Thematically speaking, the film expertly balances the mental cat and mouse game between Beatriz and Luis, and the physical hunt for the cat as the two reach the peak of tension at precisely the same moment. Beatriz Spelzini gives a moving performance as the long-suffering wife, desperate to have her fluffy black feline companion back. The cat is her reassuring confident who has been comforting her in her empty nest with her two adult children in distance locales and Luis in the mental institution. Her quiet performance brings her character’s inner turmoil to life through facial expression in her desperate search for Donatello that pushes her to the brink of madness and paranoia.
A mood-piece, The Cat Vanishes is ultimately an intelligent suspense thriller. The slow-arcing storyline makes the release of tension in the film’s final sequences much more powerful and well-worth the wait.
The Cat Vanishes screened at TIFF 2011 as part of the City to City programme highlighting films from Buenos Aires, Argentina.