As the days begin to grow shorter and the early morning temperatures start to dip, the movie industry, both domestic and foreign, does the annual shift from profit-generating popcorn fare to often loss-leader, awards-seeking prestige product.
“Prestige,” as it applies to many of the titles on the unfolding fall roster, equates to frequently depressing, usually overlong dramas that all but scream out “I’m Oscar bait. Notice me!”
“Cats of Malta” is neither typical popcorn fare nor a prestige project, although it could certainly appeal to fans of both. It has no hidden agenda or subliminal underlying message. The movie’s biggest success is that it achieves what it sets out to do, which isn’t as easy as that may sound.
Chill OutlookAs the title implies, the film takes place in the European nation of Malta, which is located about 80 miles south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. Photographed on all three Maltese islands, it is a visual feast. Buildings nearly 8,000 years old sit alongside modern skyscrapers, and all of it overlooks hypnotic turquoise waters. It’s no wonder that the 450,000 inhabitants have such a collective “chill” approach to life.
Malta is also the home to over 100,000 stray cats, most of whom are treated as spiritual equals by their human neighbors. If someone isn’t a cat lover, they also do no harm to them. It’s a live-and-let-live situation not dissimilar to that of the treatment of cows in certain parts of India.
Divided up into four quarters, the 58-minute-long “Cats of Malta” was directed by Sarah Jayne Portelli, and shot and edited by Ivan Malekin. The husband-and-wife team also serve as co-producers on this, their first feature documentary.
There is no denying that Ms. Portelli and Mr. Malekin are aiming for a warm and fuzzy, feel-good vibe with “Cats of Malta,” but neither do they shy away from pointing out the occasional pitfalls and roadblocks facing the handful of humanitarian natives who spend all of their free time and considerable amounts of money rescuing, feeding, doctoring, and fostering the throngs of felines that cross their paths.
The filmmakers open with the story of Nano, a white shorthair that was involved in a tussle with a dog and lost a leg in the process. Already hampered by advancing age (it is estimated that he is close to 20 years old), Nano does himself no favors by taking an adversarial position with the very person (Karmen Colerio) trying to save him. This segment also includes the first of many inclusions of angular animation accompaniment (credited to “Mehroz A.”)
The Cat VillageBy her own admission, Ms. Salinos has been running the “Cat Village” near her home for over half a century. At any given time, Ms. Salinos will be looking after 200 cats, but she faces the biggest challenge of her life when the property housing the “Village” is purchased by an unnamed corporation. She must either close up shop or establish a new location with ever-dwindling funds.
Not so much a cat steward as he is a cat enthusiast, sculptor Matthew Pandolfino took it upon himself to produce a nearly two-story-tall plaster and fiberglass-based cat statue that overlooks Independence Park, also known as, surprise—Cat Park.
Not all of the segments work. One in the second half, profiling a preteen named Isaac Muscat, plays out more like a self-promoting TikTok video than a humanitarian mission statement.
“Cats of Malta” succeeds by going into detail explaining the need for the continuing neutering and spaying of cats, which goes much further than mere population control. As a lifetime cat owner, I was completely unaware of this information prior to watching the film.
It is said that there are cat people and there are dog people, and in some ways, I’ll reluctantly agree. But one thing all pet owners can agree on: We’re all better people with them in our lives.
If you’re in the market for another movie with almost identical uplifting content, check out “Kedi,” the 2016 Turkish documentary focusing on cats in Istanbul. “Kedi” is available to stream on Vudu, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV+.