Recommendation: Smart and poignant to a T, Cat in the Wall is a sometimes warm, sometimes heartbreaking, mostly quirky, little film about immigration, gentrification, and working toward your dreams in a modern society. 6.5/10.
IMDB Synopsis: South-East London, in the multicultural neighborhood of Peckham, in a municipal building. A Bulgarian family goes into serious conflict with their neighbors due to abandoned cat.
Cat in the Wall, an independent from Bulgarian directors Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva, isn’t so much about the titular cat, but more that the arrival of the feline sets off a chain of events that symbolize the changing face of modern England. Set in the now up-and-coming Peckham neighborhood of south London, the film centers on Irina (Irina Atanasova), a Bulgarian immigrant who works two jobs to support her young son Jojo (Orlin Asenov) and her brother Vladimir (Angel Genov). While it’s feature-length—the director duo’s first—the film isn’t very plotty, swapping a traditional story arc for vignettes into Irina’s life that illustrates the hardship an immigrant family faces amidst social change. But amidst the struggle, Irina and the family find little joys in life, make time for one another, and carve out their piece of the English dream.
Based on true events of co-writer/director Mina Mileva, the film is a slice of life in a working class apartment complex. In the opening scene, the film deftly it conveys the deterioration of the English lower-middle class and the struggle to survive within a rigged system. But despite that, we see Irina toiling at an architecture firm, chasing her dream, likely fruitlessly as she’s passed over for projects. And we see her working nights as a bartender to support her young rambunctious son, and her brother, a trained historian whose out of job without further British schooling. Along the way, the group repeatedly spots an abandoned cat, and they take in the orange feline, who quickly endears itself to them.
However, the cat is the boiling point for the second half of the film’s problems. Actually belonging to one of the other tenants despite not being chipped or collared, and not having posted lost cat posters. The owners, a mixed race British household of lower class—one might even say trashy—individuals is immediately at odds with Irina and Vlad. All the terrible societal ills that plague a changing Britain (and America) reveal themselves. Jingoism and hatred toward immigrants. Entitlement of British nationals. Economic insecurity. Racism. Classism. Capitalism. Cat in the Wall manages to brilliantly distill these themes throughout realistic everyday encounters (as based on the writers’ real events), without feeling preachy. The audience is meant to be firmly on the side of Irina, feeling her frustration, her confusion, her powerlessness, and ultimately, a little hope.
The events do reach a narrative conclusion or more specifically, cliffhanger. But in its lack of story arc, the film is true to life, mirroring the uncertainty that so many lower and middle class people feel. There is no end, there is no conclusion or happy ending. It’s life. It’s complicated. And amidst the changing racial, cultural and economic backdrop of modern England, the only way to move forward is to move forward.
MVP: Irina Atanasova as the matriarch of the household is magnetic as she works to keep a family together, her dreams alive, and fight against the injustices of a changing society.
Highlights: The titular cat in the wall!
Directors: Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva
Release date: February 20, 2020 (int’l), April 27th, Amazon SXSW