World Film: All Cats Are Grey (French Film Festival)

Country: Belgium

Director: Savina Dellicour

Released: 2014

all cats are grey


By Fiona Hardie

Savina Dellicour’s debut feature film All Cats Are Grey, the story of a teenage girl hovering in the transition between childhood and adulthood, captures feelings of being a teenager and sensitively handles some difficult family-centred subject matter.

Dorothy (Manon Cappelle) is a teenager with a somewhat tense family situation: a difficult relationship with her mother and a sense of detachment from her family unit. This detachment is partly due to the fact that she doesn’t know her biological father; her mother constantly avoids the subject and her adopted father, whilst well-meaning, doesn’t seem to be able to fill the paternal space in her life, an area she so desperately seeks answers to.

A private detective, Paul (Bouli Lanners), believes himself to be her biological father and when they happen to meet, she and her friend ask him for help tracking down this unknown parent. He doesn’t tell her the truth at first, and the two strike up an unlikely friendship, gradually morphing into what genuinely feels like a long-lost father/daughter relationship.

This being the film’s setup, it could easily have been an incredibly tense drama as Dorothy searches for her father whilst constantly surrounded by the secrets of the adults in her life, and uneasy family dynamics. But the film’s tone hinges on its naturalistic performances. Cappelle is a newcomer, due to Dellicour’s wish to have ‘real teenagers’ at the film’s core, and is down-to-earth in her portrayal of Dorothy – described by Dellicour at the GFT’s French Film Festival screening as ‘fresh and innocent,’ whilst ‘at the same time able to feel real emotions’, her performance is especially sympathetic. As well as this, Lanners’ performance as Paul and his relationship with Dorothy exude genuine warmth to counteract the cold presence of Dorothy’s mother, skilfully played by Anne Coesens.

The plot itself sort of meanders and flits between drama and occasional random comedic elements, but the actual story takes a completely unexpected turn, so this kind of plot, in the end, feels reflective of real life and its complications. To add to this, the past is a constant, looming shadow and much of the film deals with the way the past and present link up with each other: parallels and flashbacks and the way adults and teenagers behave towards each other. This is all seen through the film’s style and technique, which is incredibly tight and polished: the mix of surreal flashbacks with gritty current-day realism is cleverly done, a mixture of colours and angles.

The title choice was intriguing from the outset. Dellicour herself said that she wrote the film whilst listening to the song of the same name by The Cure – and many have suggested it links to the moral grey areas in the film’s (very human) characters. But the film itself also has some sequences with a certain Cure like dreaminess to them – such as the flashbacks and the driving scenes. Due to the film’s budget they couldn’t afford the actual song but the soundtrack is instead peppered with rock, as well as some unknown Belgian bands whose music still gives off similar dreamlike vibes, evoking the blurred edges between past and present, childhood and adulthood.

All Cats Are Grey is a naturalistic coming-of-age film about family and found-family dynamics. Sensitively and expertly made, it’s distinctly warm and human – at times gritty, but ultimately quite uplifting.

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