Review of Sebastian Silva’s “Old Cats”

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As they say, you can pick your nose but not your family. Old Cats, Sebastian Silva’s farcical yet all-too-real examination of one dysfunctional family in Chile, stars Claudia Celedón and Catalina Saavedra as girlfriends Rosario and Hugo, who attempt to swindle Rosario’s ailing mother, Isadora, to fund their harebrained business ventures and Rosario’s appetite for nose candy.

Isadora, expertly portrayed by Belgica Castro, is suffering from dementia. One moment she stares into space, forgetting who and where she is, and the next, she snaps back into a lucid state, horrified that her once-sharp mind is unraveling. When Rosario and Hugo arrive, though, Isadora makes an extra effort to remain aware of her surroundings. After all, the only reason Rosario would visit would be to borrow – or outright steal – her money.

Rosario barges into Isadora’s apartment, histrionically babbling about her cat allergies before disappearing into the bathroom to dip her keys into her stash of coke and shove sizeable bumps into her nostrils. (Somehow, I don’t think it’s the cats’ fault that she has the sniffles.) Rosario waves a power of attorney around, a document that will allow her to sell her mother’s apartment. Isadora refuses to sign. Mayhem ensues.

Hugo and Isadora’s husband, Enrique (Alejandro Sieveking), are relatively sane compared to their partners, and they – along with a few other family members who drop by — attempt to diffuse the toxic energy brewing between mother and daughter. Rosario at first comes across as the villain in the situation, but we learn that Isadora was a particularly cold and icy mother who hand-picked Rosario out of all of her children for neglect.

Rosario and Hugo’s relationship are treated normally by Isadora — that is, sarcastically. Hugo’s real name is Beatrice, and Isadora refuses to call Hugo by her chosen name, thinking it silly for a woman to be named Hugo. When Rosario disparages her mother’s cats, Isadora responds that she has cats because she won’t have grandchildren. Mother and daughter simply have nothing nice to say to each other.

By the end of the film, though, Rosario and Isadora do show glimmers of compassion for each other, with Isadora showing a rare moment of concern for Rosario by following her down eight flights of stairs, busted hip and all. When Isadora becomes distracted by a group of actors in bee costumes and gets lost in the park, her mind temporarily out of commission, Rosario comes running to her rescue, and her histrionics appear to originate from genuine caring.

Old Cats is currently playing in the U.S. in limited release.

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