This sequence is the most effective use of the male/female communication divide, but the one I couldn’t stop thinking about dealt with cats. Gam-hee’s first stop is to visit Young-soon (Young-hwa Seo), whose apartment complex is frequented by the stray cats she feeds every day. When a new neighbor interrupts the two women, he asks Young-soon to stop feeding them so they’ll go away and his wife can roam the neighborhood without fear. The entire scene is fraught with a comic tension as the duo politely yet firmly state their opposing positions: She’s not going to stop feeding them because they’re special to her. He counters by saying repeatedly that they are “robber cats,” a term I’ve never heard before but will never stop using now that I have. The scene ends with the appearance of one of the so-called robber cats, a chubby furball that stands in the corner looking very pleased as the camera lovingly zooms in. I could have sworn I saw the same look of satisfaction on Gam-hee’s face in the final shots of “The Woman Who Ran.”
I can apply the “robber cat” designation to Small Frank, the feline star of the NYFF’s closing night film, “French Exit.” Because after Michelle Pfeiffer’s husband Frank dies in the film, Small Frank hops on his body and repeatedly licks his face until Frank’s soul is stolen and transplanted into the cat. Fans of “Batman Returns” should complain that, by that film’s rationale, Frank should have turned into Catwoman instead. That would have been a lot more interesting than this astonishingly awful tale of privileged, hateful rich people based on a book by Patrick deWitt (who also adapted the screenplay for director Azazel Jacobs). It features garbage characters we’re supposed to love because they’re “quirky.” The entire affair is played as a whimsical symphony.
Pfeiffer’s Frances Price yanks her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) out of prep school and takes him on a whirlwind journey that only makes sense to her. Before the trip is over, you’ll be reminded of Auntie Mame, “Brewster’s Millions,” any number of movies about séances, door-slamming farces, the infinitely superior mother-son movie, “20th Century Women” and “Life Without Zoe,” the Francis Coppola/Sofia Coppola segment of “New York Stories” that everybody pretends isn’t there.
This movie’s idea of “going broke” is Frances being forced to sell everything she owns before moving to a gorgeous apartment in Paris. She’s accompanied by stacks of 100 euros, which she sticks in a closet. When the money runs out, Frances plans to kill herself, leaving her son not only alone, but penniless and in a foreign country. Not that I’d care. Malcolm is the toxic type that movies constantly throw in our faces, demanding we cleave to him when our instincts tell us to run like Hell. His girlfriend certainly sees this in him, cursing him out and breaking up with him when he won’t tell his mother that they are engaged. Yet, she shows up later in Paris with her new fiancée in tow, supposedly confused about her relationship with Malcolm. Eventually, the two men arm-wrestle using her as a prize.