Cat Swallows Parakeet and Speaks (1996)


Canada. 1996.


Director/Screenplay/Producer – Ileana Pietrobruno, Photography (b&w + some scenes color) – John Houtman, Makeup Effects – Gillian Farnsworth, Art Direction – Bo Myers & Anthea Wong.


Tara Frederick (Scheherazade), Rebecca Godin (Korr), Alex Ferguson (Doctor)


The super-model Scheherazade goes into a psychiatric hospital. She believes that her doctor is performing unnecessary surgery on her and that he will only keep her alive as long as she amuses him. Obtaining the idea from her roommate, the ballerina Korr, with whom she later embarks on a lesbian affair, she starts to tell him stories taken from tabloid headlines in an effort to keep him amused. She then comes to realise that some of the people portrayed within the tabloid headlines are actually patients in the hospital.

Cat Swallows Parakeet and Speaks reads like a student film. It has that perfect blend of arty pretensions and amateurish execution only too familiar to anyone who has dutifully sat through judging film school finishing projects and short film festival entries. There are good ideas in Cat Swallows Parakeet and Speaks – in fact, almost a profusion of them. It has the intriguing idea of a modernised Tales of Arabian Nights – with Scheherazade in a psychiatric asylum making up stories (all derived from tabloid headlines) in order to keep at bay her psychopathic doctor who only keeps her alive as long as she continues to amuse him. It would maybe make the basis for a great thriller some day.

Director Ileana Pietrobruno throws everything into her conceptual stew – the film goes on to suggest, in an idea akin to Malpertuis (1972), that the hospital is stocked with the actual people that the tabloid myths are based on. Alas, Pietrobruno has absolutely no idea of how to execute any of these ideas. We, for example, never actually see Scheherazade telling the doctor any of her stories. Pietrobruno has clearly intended the film as having some type of feminist agenda – the film contains several lesbian sex scenes and most of the characters are obsessively fascinated with attaining the perfect figure through eating disorders and reconstructive surgery. One gets the impression that Pietrobruno is trying to make some comment on the connection between tabloid myth and the beauty myth – but what exactly she is trying to say with any of this could be anybody’s guess.

The film is filled with all sorts of pretentious directorial effects – like lengthy scenes shot off a muck-smeared tv screen. There is the occasional image that makes the film interesting – a patient who emits a stream of menstrual blood that ends up filling an entire room and in which she and the heroine then make love; lovemaking in a grave as the soil is poured in on the participants. Mostly though, this is just a mess that gets lost in its own pretensions.

Ileana Pietrobruno subsequently went onto make Girl King (2002), a lesbian pirate film, and Girlfriend Experience (2008) about prostitution.

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