The Case of the Grinning Cat, the latest creation from legendary French filmmaker Chris Marker, takes us meandering through Paris over the course of three years-2001 to 2004-ostensibly in search of a series of mysterious grinning cats whose stenciled image has sprung up in the most unlikely places: high atop buildings all over the city. The film-of which he has just prepared the English version-begins in November 2001 in a Paris still fresh from the shock of the September 11 attacks on the U.S., and where newspaper headlines read "We are all Americans." Over the next year, in the lead-up to the Iraq war, the city's youth march in numerous demonstrations for all manner of causes as Marker continues his pursuit of the mysterious cats. He finds them again, to his surprise, showing up as the emblem of the new French youth movement. "Make cats not war!" street art is the flip side of the idealism and exuberance driving the young people marching in protests the likes of which Paris hasn't seen since the mythic events of May 1968. While at times it might seem that the spirit of idealism has survived intact, the filmmaker's observation of it is tempered. Causes too, he observes, are a matter of fashion, and the film ends on a somber note. Cats and owls, politics and art, nimbly take their places in this Marker shuffle. The whole is woven together by the filmmaker's at times surreal humor, and by his astute and effortless camera that never fails to linger on the odd, ordinary, ineffable moments that only his eye can turn to gold dust.
Chris Marker was, according to some sources, born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1921; according to others, in Mongolia; still others maintain that he comes from another planet. Perhaps best described as a cinematic essayist and visual poet, his best known films include Sunday in Peking (1955), Letter from Siberia (1957), Description of a Struggle (1960), La Jetée (1962), Le Joli Mai (1963), The Koumiko Mystery (1965), A Grin Without a Cat (1977), Sunless (1982), The Last Bolshevik (1992), and One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevitch (1999). His recent work has emphasized video and computer-controlled imagery, including the CD-ROM Immemory (1998) and the video installations Silent Movie (1995) and Prelude: The Hollow Men (2005). His beloved cat Guillaume has apparently succeeded in shredding to bits the last traces of all known interviews with Marker, and with parallel success has used his claws to deface to the point of illegibility the very few photographs ever known to have been taken of the personage he refers to as "his human".