When the Cat Comes is one of the more quietly subversive films of the Czechoslovak New Wave, and its visual flair, storybook fantasy and absurd humour make it fun for viewers of all ages. The film won the Cannes Special Jury Prize in 1963 thanks to the winning combination of director Vojtěch Jasný, writer Jirí Brdecka—known for his collaborations with animator Jirí Trnka—and lead actor Jan Werich, writing his own dialogue in the dual role of Comrade Oliva and the Magician.

The film begins with Oliva observing the inhab- itants of an ordinary Czech village from on high, establishing the townspeople’s archetypal characters. There’s the village gossip, the unmarried lovers, the greedy innkeepers, the pig-headed schoolmaster, his bumbling henchman and of course the cherubic children. Robert, the students’ kind and generous teacher, is the closest we get to a protagonist.

The narrative kicks in when the Magician’s caravan arrives unexpectedly among great fanfare, and with his beautiful assistant Diana and her tomcat Tabby in tow. During their circus performance, the cat’s sunglasses are removed and all hell breaks loose. Tabby has magical powers, unveiling the true characters of the adult humans around him through their physically changing colours: liars become tinged with purple, the unfaithful turn yellow, thieves turn grey and the love-struck turn red.

This turns the adults’ world upside down, their innermost secrets are on show for everyone to see. Fearing that they may lose their positions of power in light of such transparency, a group of the more dastardly among them take Tabby hostage, covering his head with a sack. The children must race against the clock to save their mascot and stop the adults from taking drastic measures. — Herb Shellenberger

Vojtěch Jasný

Vojtěch Jasný (1925) is a Czech filmmaker who came to prominence during the Czechoslovak New Wave of filmmaking during the early 1960s. His films When the Cat Comes (1963), The Pipes (1966) and All My Countrymen (1968) remain his most acclaimed work, though these were preceded by inventive feature and short film work throughout the 1950s. Jasný was one of many filmmakers who left the country after the USSR invasion of Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring of 1968. After working in West Germany, Yugoslavia and Austria, Jasný moved to Brooklyn in the early 1980s and taught filmmaking at Columbia University, the School of Visual Arts and the New York Film Academy.

Filmography

Hell on Earth (2001), Return to Paradise Lost (1999), Gladys (1999), Why Havel? (1991), The Great Land of Small (1986), Bis später, ich muss mich erschiessen (1984), Es gibt noch Haselnuß-Sträucher (1983), We (1982), Die Einfälle der heiligen Klara (1980), The Woman from Sarajevo (1980), Die Stühle des Herrn Szmil (1979), Die Freiheiten der Langeweile (1978), Impressions of Herbert Von Karajan (1978), Die Rückkehr des alten Herrn (1977), Mein seliger Onkel (1977), Fairy (1977), Bäume, Vögel und Menschen (1976), Ernst Fuchs (1976), The Clown (1976), Attempted Flight (1976), Das Leben des schizophrenen Dichters Alexander März (1975), Des Pudels Kern (1975), Frühlingsfluten (1974), Der Kulterer (1974), Nicht nur zur Weihnachtszeit (1972), Der Leuchtturm (1972), Nasrin oder Die Kunst zu träumen (1972), Czech Rhapsody (1969), Warum ich Dich liebe (1969(, All My Good Countrymen (1969), The Pipes (1966), Magnetické vlny lécí (1965), When the Cat Comes (1963), Pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary (1961), I Survived Certain Death (1960), Desire (1958), September Nights (1957), Andela (1957), Opportunity (1956), No Fear (1956), Everything Ends Tonight (1955), From a Chinese Notebook (1954), Old Chinese Opera (1954), Lidé jednoho srdce (1953), Neobycejná léta (1952), Za zivot radostný (1950), They Know What to Do (1950), Není stále zamraceno (1950)