The theory behind surely EIFF’s oddest and loveliest film, Rent-A-Cat, is that having a cat will help people feel less lonely and will fill a hole in their hearts. After 110 minutes spent in the company of Sayoko and her feline friends, it’s difficult not to believe that. Sayoko is a young woman who confesses that she finds it easier to attract cats rather than people, and indeed she seems to connect with them more than she does in any interactions with her more bipedal companions. Using this gift for cat communication, she pulls her moggie laden cart along the river offering to loan out her pets to any lonely people. In doing so, she meets other oddballs and loners, those who, for one reason or another, have a hole in their hearts that hopefully a cat can fill.
It’s a crazy premise and the film just runs with it. It’s structured as a series of cat-rental vignettes, each with a different loner yet featuring a series of clever repetitions of earlier lines. The changes in these repetitions denote subtle shifts in Sayoko’s attitudes, yet keep it light and witty. By splitting the film into these sections, director Naoko Ogigami establishes a playfully absurd tone that embraces its own oddness. Indeed, much of the humour is so out there it’s possibly lost on Western audiences – if someone could explain to me the man in drag that continually insults his next door neighbour, I’d be indebted to you. It’s perhaps a little over the top for some tastes, but its honest emotion and refusal to be saccharine means that the zaniness is tempered by a genuine heart.
A Polish community falling apart amidst acts of retributive violence; a brother and sister coming to terms with parents fighting the last stages of dementia; pro-democracy protesters killed by thuggish police; ballet. Edinburgh Film Fest has barely begun yet already much of the cinema on offer has been weighty, sombre fare, a lot of it effective but glaringly devoid of a lightness of touch. Enter Rent-A-Cat, an absolutely bonkers breath of fresh air that manages to make even loneliness feel like sunshine and happiness. If you remain uncharmed by this delightfully daft film: seek therapy immediately. Maybe cat therapy.