Monday 2 October 2023

Cats of Malta (Malta 2023: Dir Sarah Jayne Portelli)

I don't like dogs. Actually that's a little unfair; I've never grown up with them so have no experience of owning or living with the beasts; but if you're going to have a pet I'd prefer something that doesn't follow your shadow all the time, dribble at its first exposure to a bit of sun or go around producing really big turds. Like cats then.

I like cats. Which is why I liked Cats of Malta, a slight but captivating documentary whose title pretty much sums up its content (there isn't a cat in the documentary as big as the one on the poster though).

Filmmaker Portelli has Maltese heritage and lived on the island for four years from 2017 (ie over lockdown). Unlike the residents, who have clearly grown used to the intensive stray 'catfestation' of the area (there are 450,000 Maltese islanders and over two cats for every resident) the director noticed the way in which the animals had become part of the soul of the islands, and how the islanders, for the most part, lived either contentedly or ambivalently with their furry neighbours.

The documentary focuses on a number of people, of varying ages and genders (it was particularly heartening to see an 11 year old boy, very proud of his role in cat support), who voluntarily provide feline care services, whether feeding, neutering or befriending them, or in one case memorialising them in sculpture form. It's clearly an uphill task, made more so by an indifferent Maltese government more intent on encouraging rapid building development (with corresponding cat displacement) than acknowledging the contribution made by the cats to the overall mental health and well being of the islanders.

Of course not every islander is a cat fan - examples of human unkindness are referenced but, thankfully not dwelt on; the documentary is about selflessness and benevolence, after all. 

Cats of Malta won't make documentary of the year, but I don't think that was Portelli's intention. It's a small, but affectionate film; if you're a cat fan it's a fabulous hour and a bit of your time; if not, well...there's clearly no hope for you.

Cats of Malta is available now on digital download.

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