Sunday, September 13, 2015

Be My Cat Takes a Swipe at Hollywood in this Disturbing Found Footage Masterpiece

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*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by director Adrian Tofei.

Director/writer: Adrian Tofei.

Cast: Adrian Tofei, Sonia Teodorriu, Florentina Hariton and Alexandra Stroe.

Be My Cat: A Film For Anne is Romania's first found footage horror film, and the first feature from director Adrian Tofei, also the film's writer, producer and star. This disturbing portrayal of an obsessed fan making a film about an obsessed fan begs questions about reality, art, film and the industry itself, and does so with incredible guts and originality. The chilling realism is sure to make viewers squirm like watching a snuff film but, thankfully, the authenticity comes from strong performances by an excellent cast. Though crawling with creep appeal, this film won't just satisfy horror fans, it should intrigue film nerds and aspiring filmmakers alike as it relentlessly pushes boundaries, making for a totally unique cinematic experience.

Adrian is a loner who lives at home with his mother. He loves girls and cats. He is also obsessed with Hollywood actress, Anne Hathaway, and is especially fond of her performance as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Adrian aspires to make a film with Anne, and plans on showing off his talents by recording his aspirations as a love letter of sorts, to get her attention. His film is meant to be viewed only by Anne so, as the audience, you are Anne and he refers to you as such. At first, Adrian seems weird but harmless; his quirkiness is endearing and sweet. But we soon learn that his quirks are merely symptomatic of something much bigger—something unsettling that lurks beneath the surface.

In creating this film for Anne, Adrain tricks three lovely actresses into, essentially, becoming his props. While they believe they've signed up for an acting gig in a horror feature, they don't realize that this director's obsession with realistic perfection knows no boundaries. Adrian's pushy directing style borders on abusive as he strives to acquire a “real” actress—someone prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for art's sake. Throughout the course of the film, we see him become more and more like the character he's created in the film for Anne: “I'm not sure if I'm me, or if I'm playing the character.” It's an eerie facet to the story that blurs the lines of fact and fiction.

The film's concept is simple yet incredibly effective. Following suit with other found footage films like The Blair Witch Project, Be My Cat relies on a minimalistic approach. Shot with an old school hand-held camera, the film has no special effects or camera tricks—no filler. At times, you hardly feel like you're watching a movie. Another tactic (also employed in Blair Witch) is using the actors' real names. It's only a movie. . .right?

Adrian Tofei as the creepy Adrian.

The setting in Be My Cat is interesting as it's not all that scary, yet Tofei and his team manage to create a frightening atmosphere. Most of the scenes take place on the streets of a Romanian town (unbeknownst to passersby) and in a fairly average-looking basement. Masterfully, this film turns every ordinary place into something worthy of nightmares. While credit is partly due to the found footage style which, if done well, allows the viewer to feel more like a witness than a moviegoer, the cast also deserves praise for delivering exceptionally strong performances. Sonia Teodorriu, Florentina Hariton, Alexandra Stroe and Adrian Tofei are so convincing that, at times, it's uncomfortable to watch.

Terrifying elements aside, the film has some rather compelling thematic content, particularly in relation to art and the business of movie-making. In a sense, it truly is a critique of the industry itself. Much like Tofei, the character, Adrian, wants to do something different—he wants to change the world—he is an artist. He claims that he cannot make his film in Hollywood, that it must be done in his Romanian home town. This is partly due to the character's anxiety, but it also says a lot about where great films are being made. They aren't being made in Hollywood.

Alexandra Stroe shows off her skills.

More commentary on the industry appears in the depiction of the way that women are treated in film; they are expected to look a certain way and are often not given the respect they deserve. Throughout the film, Adrian reminds the actresses to speak in English. Although this is partially so Anne Hathaway can understand what is being said, it can also be taken as a critique of the way foreign filmmakers and actors are treated in the business among the mainstream masses; in order to be accepted, one must conform.

The self-reflexive nature of Be My Cat: A Film For Anne is riveting. This film-within-a-film technique works incredibly well. It's extremely refreshing to see an intelligent film, not overshadowed by shock value. In fact, there isn't much gore to speak of. In that sense, the movie poster is fairly misleading. The lack of brutal carnage may prove a let down for those who fiend the blood and guts, but this viewer felt satisfied by the end product—a successful found footage film that cleverly blurs the lines of what's real while questioning what constitutes real art.

While the character Adrian creates his film as a love letter to Anne Hathaway, Adrian the filmmaker creates a love letter to aspiring filmmakers and artists, making a case for integrity and originality. These two ingredients tend to be left off the plate when it comes to big budget Hollywood productions. This is why foreign films appeal to this viewer. Be My Cat: A Film For Anne isn't a film for everyone; some moviegoers crave explosions and carnage, and aren't interested in artsy originality. For those wanting a more thought-provoking unique experience, you should definitely take a look, particularly if you're into found footage films. This is one of the best.

Rating: 8/10.

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