Psychic cat sees true colors, aided by sunglasses

This is my new favorite movie. My cat will never wear sunglasses again.

Although enjoyable as purely a moralistic story, Vojtěch Jasný’s 1963 Czech new wave film, When the Cat Comes, uses the enchanting qualities of a folktale to convey the troubles with conformity and oppression innate to communist government.

From the clock tower of the town, the seer Oliva (Jan Werich) introduces the townspeople and their character traits, revealing undesirable qualities in them that they may already be aware of but have chosen to ignore.

With the arrival of a magician (also played by Werich) and his magic show, the corruption of the town becomes harder to pass over as the magic show features an acrobat (Emília Vášáryová) and her magical cat that wears sunglasses.

When the cat’s sunglasses are removed, the townspeople change to the color that matches their true nature, such as violet for liars, red for lovers and yellow for traitors.

The transformation tears the town apart, separating the people who appreciate nonconformity and the truth shown in the colors, and those who would prefer to remain anonymous in their unsavory ways.

At the heart of this matter are the children of the town and their beloved art teacher Robert (Vlastimil Brodský) and the deceptive headmaster of the school (Jirí Sovák), who convey the beliefs of the two opposing sides which exist in and out of the film.

The anticommunist undertones are not surprising, considering Jasný’s other films from the same period. His feelings are subtly showcased in When the Cat Comes through dialogue and imagery.

Some of the most consistent imagery is the presence of birds, which are conveyed as emblems of freedom when alive and oppression when in the hands of the headmaster, a taxidermist.

Some of the dialogue is surprisingly blunt when it comes to the expression of communist opposition, such as when Oliva meets the magician—who looks exactly like him—referring to it as matter against antimatter, saying, “I wouldn’t advise it, it might just mean mutual annihilation and the creation of a third power. The known powers are more than enough.”

I wonder how this line escaped the censorship of the time, but then again, who could resist a cat in sunglasses?

There is not much to complain about with When the Cat Comes. The cat is delightful, there is a magic show within the film, and the antagonist of the film takes the presence of the cat so seriously that it’s at once unnerving and laughable.

Finally, when the townspeople’s true colors are revealed, they dance. It is the Czech new wave at its very finest.

Although Jasný is considered to be a significant figure in the cinematic canon, When the Cat Comes is shown infrequently in the United States and is unavailable through digital streaming providers. Don’t miss the chance to see it on the big screen.