Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats

Rita Zohar as Yolanda Moskowitz

Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats, a film by Jorge Gurvich, opens today in Israeli theatres. I saw the film for the first time at the Jerusalem Film Festival 2009, when Rita Zohar won an award for her performance as Yolanda Moskowitz. Seeing the film again, I was once more drawn to the lives and stories of its characters, perhaps even more so seeing the film on its own, far from the noise and fanfare of a film festival. More surprising to me was re-reading my first impressions of the film and feeling that I still identify entirely with everything I wrote at the time – an excellent reason to repost, almost word for word:

Like Yolanda, the main character in Jorge Gurvich’s film Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats, I have a complicated relationship with the street cats of Tel Aviv, in which reason and emotion do endless battle. Against all reason, I am convinced that there is a profound wisdom in their gaze, which opens this movie. The cats come first, confronting the viewer, then Yolanda walks by, immaculately coiffed and groomed, carefully avoiding contact.
A woman of a certain age in conjunction with cats immediately evokes the dreaded spectre of the “cat lady”: friendless, bedraggled, slightly crazy and surrounded by cats. We all know what we do not want to become, and Yolanda is no exception. Yet the inevitable, inexorable force of time pulls us all into its vortex. The loss of health and vigor is particularly threatening for those, like Yolanda, who have no immediate family and no established network of friends. Mrs. Mosckwitz falls hard – thrust into the geriatric ward of a hospital, dependent on others, her carefully maintained façade crumbles. She has become more vulnerable, yet there is much more to Mrs. Moskowitz than her age, or infirmity.

Rita Zohar carries the film beautifully with a performance that never slides into the abyss of sentimentality. As Gurvich said after the festive screening at the Jerusalem Film Festival: “The film is hers – she gave her all to me and the film” Moni Moshonov as Shaul is the perfect foil to Yolanda – (spoiler warning) who wouldn’t fall in love with this rogue? Old age and ill health have a bad reputation for being “depressing” –like the image of the “cat lady” – but it would be a mistake to let that stop you from seeing this lovely, funny and life-affirming movie. Inspired by the novel “The Way to the Cats” by Yehoshua Kenaz, this film manages to refer to the clichés with intelligence and humor yet avoids both cliché and excess stickiness.

Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats
Jorge Gurvich
Israel 2009 83 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles