by Brooke Sonenreich
In October of 1999, my sister picked up an abandoned black kitten crying beneath the fern planters in front of our house. Despite his angelic disposition, I think there was always a festering darkness in Spooky. I imagined what it must have been like to come into consciousness alone only days before Halloween, when it was common to greet masked neighbors with doorways full of cobwebs, disorienting strobe lights, and gutted pumpkins with human-like features. Eventually the doom and gloom caught up with him, and we even ended up changing his name from Spooky to Lucifer post-transformation from kitten to neighborhood rogue. He had a knack for loving us and leaving us for midnight mangrove adventures and treacherous balancing acts on the fences of swampy South Miami. Nothing less than a professional, by four he was conning neighbors into giving him blue crab and fish scraps, attacking those who refused and then strutting away to test the shock collars on their once passive pups. He became violent if we hesitated to let him out, demanding to use the outdoors as a way to project his curiosities and fears - if only just to wrestle with them on the roofs of Spanish style mansions or on the tops of old southern slash pine trees.
I have always coveted his perspective of Miami. When my mother sternly resisted our pleas to play in the flooded streets after long drawn out hurricanes, Lucifer enjoyed un-chaperoned, unchallenged potential. He scaled fallen, electrocuted branches and inspected stagnant pools that had become graveyards for defenseless rodents. It was a version of Miami I wished to venture alone into, too, a city throttled and threatened by yet another close call at finally being digested by the Atlantic.
There was something about watching Une vie de chat (2010) that reaffirmed this envy. The hand-drawn animated film, directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, is set above and below the zinc-covered rooftops of Paris and shown predominantly from the perspective of Dino, a rambunctious black cat. The way Dino tells his story makes me believe that every indoor-outdoor cat shares a similar attraction to Hitchcockian thrill and adventure and, most of all, a perspective on the world that is hard for any human explorer to even begin to grasp.
In juxtaposition to my own experiences in Paris—perusing through the Centre Pompidou alongside my eccentric flatmates, eating baguettes below the Eiffel Tower with my mother, discovering classical musicians performing in the corridors of the Metro—Dino covers far more ground. His adventures are substantially motivated by his friendship with Nico, a jewel thief who lives down the block from Zoé, Dino’s daytime companion. When Dino becomes bored of the comforts of domesticity—a bowl of milk and an early morning cuddle—he leaps out the window to accompany Nico through a nightlife filled with adrenaline-fueled thievery.
This duality is a vital aspect of how differently Dino experiences Paris from us civilians. Too fatigued from his nights of climbing up gutters and hopping from treetop to rooftop, Dino rests while tourists line up to take pictures near the Trocadéro and locals light their cigarettes amongst the art along the Canal Saint-Martin. Instead, Dino experiences Paris when the backpackers have all retreated to their hostels, when the streets are almost vacant. Rather than traveling by escalator through the Pompidou’s hamster tube of an entrance to see the Paris skyline from inside of the deconstructed style museum, Dino sees the sparkling city with his heart pumping rapidly from a rooftop near the flat he just helped rob. Through Dino’s gaze, Paris belongs to him, much like a child viewing a jungle gym assembled in their parents’ backyard.
Often times I’ve felt like Zoé in the beginning of the film. The way Lucifer was perceived in my neighborhood was identical to the way Dino is profiled by Zoé’s elderly neighbor: “a menace,” wreaking havoc. Much like Zoé, being recurrently confined to an apartment—a result of her widowed, workaholic mother on the police force—these restrictions permitted me to see an inkling of my cat’s duality. I was limited to looking at him behind bedroom, French door, and car windows, but continually guessing what he was getting up to after disappearing into the darkness of someone else’s backyard.
Near the end of the film, Zoé gathers up the courage to follow Dino—which leads to being kidnapped by her father’s killer, Victor Costa, and Claudine, her double-crossing au pair. Dino leads Nico to the gangster’s basement by following the scent of the stomach-churning perfume Claudine excessively sprays around her fellow mobsters. The reclaiming of Zoé leads to a mesmerizing chase through the Paris Zoo, up above the River Seine, and finally towards the Notre-Dame cathedral.
Eventually, I gained the courage Zoé attained when she finally decided to follow Dino on one of his late night adventures. Fueled partly by jealousy but mostly by admiration, I started channeling Lucifer, sneaking out of windows at fourteen years old to explore South Beach and Coconut Grove, anchoring boats in the middle of the marshes just to be closer to the downtown skyline, and constantly escaping to the overgrown fields of Coral Gable’s secret dog park. It was nothing compared to the life that Lucifer likely led, of course, but he inspired my adventures nonetheless.
I imagine there will always be a green cat balancing on my back whispering, “If you were Lucifer you would have really seen Miami,” or “If you were Dino you could have scaled more.” The intuitive, ostensibly fearless indoor-outdoor cat never lets a night go by without exploring the ins and outs of side streets, courtyards, and alleyways. I often lay awake in bed wondering what Lucifer saw on his midnight walks down Bella Vista, the street lined with red mangroves older than the village of houses surrounding them. Were there mangrove inhabitants cooped up in hammocks above the low tide who Lucifer recognized as acquaintances? Did my furry friend know more about the neighborhood goings-on from his post on top of the ever-blooming Bottle Brush tree?
The only truth Zoé’s devious au pair Claudine speaks during the film comes when she points to Zoé’s collection of hunted dead lizards from Dino and says, “It’s not what other girls play with, but so what? Maybe you’re part cat.” Perhaps all I need in order to truly and fearlessly explore is a bit of inspiration from my own rambunctious black cat, undeniably still a part of me.
Brooke Sonenreich is a graduate student in the Critical Studies in Film/Video/Digital Imaging program at Georgia State University. In her free time she runs Esoteric, a feminist zine she started with a few friends she used to sling ice cream with.