EIFF 2012: Two for animal lovers: Rent-a-Cat & The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus

Rentacatstill

Rent-a-cat is a Japanese film about a young woman (Sayoko) who is a lover of felines. She has so many felines she decides to lend them to lonely strangers, “to fill the hole in their hearts”.

Like the protagonists in Amelie and Clueless/Emma, we soon find out that although Sayoko loves helping people, she needs help just as much as her lonely customers. For example, she displays many of her life goals on her wall, the most important of which is that she gets married by the end of the year.

The film has a very light-hearted tone, key moments are repeated through out the film, such as the customer’s shock as how cheap the rent-a-cat service is, and Sayoko’s apparently far-fetched alternative methods of income (ranging from fortune telling to stockbroking). Another highlight is Sayoko’s ugly neighbour who constantly derides her with ridiculous insults.

The film’s nature relies heavily on its eccentric characters and premise, and you will probably know within about ten minutes whether this is the type of film you like. It has charm and personality in spades, but does not attempt to bring anything new to the medium of film.

As such, it is the type of movie perfect for a relaxing Sunday afternoon, but perhaps lacking the same level of imagination as similar films like Amelie or Kiki’s Delivery Service.

In summary, Rent-a-Cat is a film a bit like a hot cup of tea: something that will give you a warm glow after you experience it, but not something that will drastically change the course of your life.

The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus poster

The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus is the latest film from Alexander O. Philippe whose The People Versus George Lucas was shown at EIFF two years ago.

Paul, for those of you with the memory of an aquatic sea creature, correctly predicted all seven of Germany’s matches at the World Cup in 2010, and then went on to predict the winner of the final, Spain, giving him a record any sport’s pundit would be bragging about for the rest of their career.

The film is probably more in-depth than a film about a psychic octopus has any right to be. We get interviews the employees of Paul’s aquarium in Oberhausen; his English agent; Spanish world cup winners; bookmakers; and even the late Paul himself (via two “animal communicators”).

Like The People Versus George Lucas, it also features fan videos with a surprising number of songs from a surprising number of countries written in honour of the eight-legged soothsayer.

What Philippe does with this film is to strike a great tone between the bizarreness of the topic and the public’s undeniable obsession with it. So on the one hand we have the animal communicators hilariously contradicting each other about Paul’s message for humankind, and on the other we have an academic talking about famous sea creatures in ancient mythology and how Paul causes us to question just how much we know.

As a result we get a documentary which is very entertaining to watch, but also asks the right questions about why it is we become so obsessed with something we know cannot possibly be true.

In the Q&A after the film Philippe talked about his interest in pop culture and how easily it is often dismissed. Whether it’s Star Wars or psychic animals, it’s great to see filmmakers exploring these areas because trivial as they may be on one level, people’s interest in them is undeniable; and that seems to be what interests Philippe most.

The Life and Times of Paul the Pyschic Octopus doesn’t work quite as well as The People Versus George Lucas for precisely that reason; people just are not as obsessed with it. However in and of itself it is still a highly entertaining, smart and engaging documentary.

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