Cambridge Film Festival 2013: Reviewing Dead Cat (UK, directed by Stefan Georgiou)

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Dead Cat is a funny, engaging and thoughtful film about being 30-something and realising what is important: it’s a kind of a coming of age film for adults. Relationships of all sorts are at the heart of this very British film – friendships, love and romance, families. It was one of my top three films at this year’s Cambridge Film Festival and I strongly recommend it to anyone. As well as watching Dead Cat on the small and big screen I spoke to director Stefan Georgiou about his debut feature.

Michael’s life is messy. His  cat has keeled over into its bowl and quietly died, he’s got no girlfriend, he still lives in his boyhood bedroom, his dad hardly speaks to him and he’s struggling to make a living as a photographer. Can it get any worse? Oh yes. During an awkward speed-dating event he comes face to face with an ex-girlfriend. THE ex-girlfriend. Michael and Kristen had been childhood sweethearts but had broken up ten years before. They’ve both made new lives, but each are adrift on a sea of unhappiness. Will they work out a happy future together? Do they even want to?

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Do Michael and Kristen have genuine feelings for each other?

The prickly relationship between Michael and his dad is handled deftly: director Stefan Georgiou says “ We wanted to address the effect parent/child relationships has on future relationships, as well as the common situation now of people around 30 still living at home”. They share the family home but bicker over petty grievances, like losing keys. They have drifted apart since the death of Michael’s mum 18 months before, grieving apart rather than together. Dad is so wrapped up in his own pain that he has been unable to pay Michael any attention; their eventual reconciliation is one of the most moving episodes of the entire film. There’s no fuss, no drama, no words needed. We can begin to hope that they will find a way to live together harmoniously.

Michael’s group of friends provides his one constant; they are endearing and hilarious as they tackle their own issues and try to support him. “We wrote the parts of the four friends specifically for those four actors. They are also close friends so we knew if we wrote it accurately the dynamic would work” says Stefan Georgiou. Much of the banter was improvised before shooting, which lends authenticity to those scenes, especially in Marco’s café. I’d love to know the back story of these characters, where they came from, where they are going.

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The relationship between the friends echoes the real life friendships of the actors.

The film is set in North London; the locations are terrific, showing London off beautifully but realistically. It’s good to see the city as an ordinary place to live and work, rather than as either the epitome of social deprivation or of corporate greed. There’s a lovely snippet of dialogue between Kristen and Michael as they walk down a deserted street at night. Their talk turns to London itself, he thinks it’s a place where creativity is stifled whereas she thinks it a place to be anything you please. It’s a revealing moment of how low Michael’s mood is.

Dead Cat showcases the UK film industry’s emerging acting and technical talent. Sebastian Armesto stars as Michael, supported by Sophia Dawnay as Kristen, Tom Mison as Tim, Johnny Palmeiro as Marco, and co-writer Sam Bern as hirsute Sam. The film has made its presence felt on the festival circuit throughout 2013 winning awards at Oaxaca, the Indie Spirit Film Festival in Colorado Springs, Southampton International Film Festival. At Cambridge Film Festival each show attracted a bigger audience –  attracted by the buzz around this film. It’s a massive shame that so far it doesn’t have a distributor so a festival is probably the most likely place to see it at the moment. Dead Cat gives no hint that it was made on the smallest budget; the script is tight and believable, the production values high.

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Tom Mison as Tim, an actor in a TV soap series.

I love this film: it’s got that very British ‘understated’ feel to it rather like Grow Your Own or even Another Year: the drama is allowed to breathe and to develop without rushing or feeling the need to explain everything. The characters are unshowy and natural, the cinematography sharp, the colour palette is warm. It’s emotional without being overly sentimental – quite an achievement to produce a romantic comedy that feels real. And by the end you’ll know why the film’s title is what it is.

Postscript: Stefan Georgiou told me that he is hoping to shoot two short films by the end of the year “One is Sex Life, which is written by a very talented writer, Kefi Chadwick, and is based on her play about a man’s attempts to initiate intimacy with his partner after they’ve had a baby. The other is Guide Me Home about a lonely cyclist in London who is found dead in his flat three months after he died, which I have written. We are also at the very early stages of writing Dead Cat as a television series, which would be a lovely return to these characters”. I’ll be looking out for that!

Image copyright: Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly.

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