Cult Cinema: Felidae

Dana reviews the candid animated tale, Felidae.

"I just love bathtime!"
Most people don’t decide to watch an animated movie expecting much more than entertainment – even those who seek out more “adult” feature animation don’t necessarily approach it with intent to be moved, or to have their social stances challenged. I have always been the kind of person to gravitate toward unusual, intelligent animation which, whether collectively or personally, carries meaning. Whether it’s a feel-good cartoon buddy comedy, harrowing literary adaptation, or angst-ridden pencil sketch biopic, I always come to animation with a desire to learn and feel things.

The German animated film, Felidae, is a stunning example of what happens when a series of mystery novels, told from a unique perspective and fraught with philosophical questions and Devil’s-advocate morality, are lovingly animated and presented as a complex tale of higher survival. When I first saw it, I was struck not only by the mastery of its art direction, but by its story – and the repercussions of behaviors and attitudes of the mostly faceless human characters who inhabit the lives of its feline protagonists.

Penned by Turkish-born German author Akif Pirinçci, the Felidae literary series began life in 1989 with a self-titled volume. The tomcat, Francis, narrates the minutiae of his life as the ordinary house pet of an ordinary man – a relatively mundane and comfortable existence, until Francis finds himself moved to a new neighborhood with his owner and is confronted by horrors taking place there. Investigating the murders of several neighborhood cats, Francis begins to unravel a twisted series of events among area felines, uncovering the truth about the area’s history and the man who previously occupied his home.

Of the eight books in the Felidae cycle, only the first two have thus far been translated into English – and the film adaptation, carefully animated in a style almost reminiscent of very early Don Bluth, has been produced both in German and English.  Pirinçci served as a writer on the film’s script, and it follows the book quite faithfully, pulling no punches where violent imagery and philosophical shock are concerned. From graphic scenes of disemboweled and bloody cat bodies to a surreal and terrifying nightmare sequence with symbolic parallels to Nazi medical experimentation and eugenics, Felidae is not for the weak of heart. Musically, it is as fertile as its uncompromising visuals – featuring a score by Anne Dudley and an opening theme performed by Boy George.

"All out of tuna! Please god, no."
Felidae takes its time to create the domain of these animals – cat biology, behavior and movement is carefully rendered for accuracy here. They build their world socially around actual felid habits, and we see Francis and his neighbors approach the murder mystery with cautious creature logic. Theirs is a rooftop society filled with the violence of feral cat sex, territorial pissing, and tooth-and-claw governance which reveals itself through the guise of human convention; as the cats begin to adopt a cultish devotion to their folk-figure, “Claudandus” and try to make sense of the puzzle pieces of the grisly murders, they seem never more human than when they are clinging the most fiercely to their feline identity.

Felidae has gained a lot of Internet notoriety for its candid portrayal of both animated violence and sex – but, for me, it is really in the underground of characters Francis encounters, and how their shadowed conventions work which breeds intrigue. As he begins to discover a deeply disturbing truth about the place in which he lives, we are asked to consider the impact of human and animal coexistence, the inherent power-play of the hierarchy of species – and how we believe we can justify the idea that some animals are, indeed, more equal than others.

-Dana Culling

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