This modest charmer uses the peg of a missing cat to explore the lonely life of a young makeup artist who lives in a crumbling old suburb of Paris. Writer-director Cedric Klapisch shows sensitivity and flair in exploring a neighborhood and its inhabitants with affection and humor, but the no-name pic faces an uphill battle for theatrical bookings outside French territories, though Euro TV outlets are definitely indicated.

This modest charmer uses the peg of a missing cat to explore the lonely life of a young makeup artist who lives in a crumbling old suburb of Paris. Writer-director Cedric Klapisch shows sensitivity and flair in exploring a neighborhood and its inhabitants with affection and humor, but the no-name pic faces an uphill battle for theatrical bookings outside French territories, though Euro TV outlets are definitely indicated.

Chloe, sweetly played by Garance Clavel, works for a ditzy model agency — a job she hates — and shares an apartment with Michel (Olivier Py), who’s gay. Her only companion is her cat, Gris-Gris, who, despite his name, is jet black. When she plans a vacation, she has trouble finding someone to care for Gris-Gris (Michel won’t hear of taking the responsibility), and is eventually directed to the petite and eccentric Mme. Renee (the wonderful Renee Le Calm), who lives with a brood of felines and a sleepy little dog called Rambo.

When Chloe returns from the seaside, Gris-Gris is missing. Helped by the distraught Mme. Renee, Chloe starts to scour the neighborhood for the cat, and, in doing so, gets to know people she otherwise would not have met.

Inevitably, Chloe’s search for Gris-Gris will bring her closer to romance, but not before a few mistakes and mishaps. Klapisch’s achievement here is to bring alive the people and streets of a run-down part of the city where beautiful old buildings are being demolished to make way for goodness knows what. The area’s residents are mostly old people — many of them cat lovers — and members of ethnic minorities.

Gentle pacing and quiet observation infuse this sweet tale of the search for a meaning to life, with natural performances and fine location photography (by Benoit Delhomme). Klapisch’s economy of style is a pleasure, as in the sequence in which Chloe takes her vacation. We see her, with backpack, crossing a street toward the station (catching the eye of a guy she’ll meet when she returns); then there’s the briefest of shots of her wallowing in the sea somewhere; and then a shot of her coming back across the road from the station, carrying a large, ugly pot. An entire seaside holiday is thus encapsulated in a few seconds , in a sequence typical of the achievements of the film as a whole.

When the Cat's Away ...

French

Production

A Bac Films release of a Vertigo Films production, in association with FR 2, Canal Plus. (International sales: Roissy Films, Paris.) Produced by Farid Lahouassa, Aissa Djabri, Manuel Munz. Directed, written by Cedric Klapisch.

Crew

Camera (color), Benoit Delhomme; editor , Francine Sandberg; production design, Francois Emmanuelli; costumes, Pierre Yves Gayraud; sound, Olivier Le Vacon; assistant director, Jacques Royer; casting, Bruno Levy. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 17, 1996. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Chloe - Garance Clavel
Djamel - Zinedine Soualem
Michel - Olivier Py
Mme. Renee - Renee Le Calm
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