The Arty Semite

Talking Cat Takes Center Stage

By Curt Schleier

What happens when a cat eats a parrot? Obviously, it gains the ability to speak.

Joann Sfar

But what happens when it’s “The Rabbi’s Cat?” Clearly, you get an argumentative feline who takes on all comers, including his master. To add insult to injury, given the current troubles between Israel and Iran, it appears to be a Persian.

The film, in French with English subtitles, is based on a popular series of graphic novels by Joann Sfar, who also co-directed the movie. It is set in Algiers in the 1930s, at that time a bustling metropolis with large European, Jewish and Arab populations.

The rabbi of the title, named Sfar, has a lot going on in his life. A widower with a teenage daughter, he needs to pass a government-mandated French language test or lose his title. He can’t stop at many local cafes, because they don’t serve Arabs or Jews. A cousin with a pet lion visits. Another cousin, Sheik Sfar, is a wise imam. A large box from the Soviet Union arrives containing a Jew escaping pogroms. And then there is the adventure they — the Russian, the Sheik, the rabbi and his cat — embark on, in search of a mythical city of Jerusalem and the lost tribe of black Jews from Ethiopia.

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