“Love is never having to say you’re sorry”. That’s where you have it wrong, dear tear-jerking “Love Story”. Love is never having to hide your grossness. So let your weird ride free in audacious, indie horror comedy “Are We Not Cats?” director Xander Robins’ feature film debut.
People in their late-twenties are some of cinema’s preferred age categories to fixate on the “lost soul” type of character, someone wandering around in his own life, not really latching on to anything, not really feeling like there is something worthy to latch onto. Eliezer is one of those people. After the triple punch in the gut of losing a girlfriend, a job and his house, he takes up a chance job that has him travelling across the country to practically deserted northern landscapes. Chance pushes him again and so he meets the detergent-chugging Kyle, and his absorbing elfish girlfriend, Anya. And as in every story of boy meets girl, boy falls for manic pixie girl and takes the idea of consummating one’s love into whole new territory. Disgust, obsession and love mix bizarrely well together.
The film builds on the eponymous 2013 short film, and brings confirmation of the director’s promise, with it being selected to close the Critics’ Week at the Venice Film Festival. Sure enough, this is a greatly encouraging start. “Are We Not Cats” is for the guts and eyes alike. Nails dig into crimson blisters, teeth incessantly graze on hair and psychedelic lights blaze in-sync with the music. Your senses are erratically stimulated and frustrated, but are never fully released of the tension. In a strange mixture of sickly apathy intercut with crazed liveliness, Robins deftly creates a generalized atmosphere of unease in one’s own skin and pushes you to the very limits of comfort. He treads on Cronenberg-ian body-horror territory but does so in a more understated, yet just as visceral manner.
The story might focus on a budding love story, but it pays no less attention to our relationship with our own bodies and implicitly, with those of others. Inspired by parts of his own biography, Robins manages to really sink into this confounding territory. Any relationship is essentially a reconfiguration of your body’s physical limits and how you perceive these limits in your mind. You learn and un-learn behaviours and experiment with how far you can go inside and outside of yourself and your love. While we may think that these things are set in stone, we slowly realize just how much we’re a work in progress.
“Edgy” and “eccentric” are labels used so often that it can feel like they have lost any specific meaning. It happens also with decaying post-industrial landscapes and drug-fuelled parties in shady looking basements and yet “Are We Not Cats” can still make them feel fresh. When films might start to seem like a sequel that uses the same tropes, Robins’ feature feels familiar and yet still surprising at the same time. Like all good love stories.