'Tomcat' Paints an Intimate Portrait of How We Ride the Wave of Our Emotions

This is film beyond entertainment -- it's the observational curiosity of art to reflect back an intimate view of ourselves that bridges the literal and non-literal.


Director: Händl Klaus
Cast: Philipp Hochmair, Lukas Turtur
Studio: Matchbox Films
Year: 2016
UK Release Date: 2017-05-12

Present the mind as a blank canvas to Händl Klaus’ Tomcat (Kater), without any concept of the premise; its opening unmistakably strikes the chords of the art-house aesthetic. The abrupt cuts interspersed throughout the slow paced title sequence comprised of '30s-era paintings nurtures an impression of a film rough around the edges, foreshadowing the imperfection of the human characters, or rather the imperfect relationship at the heart of the drama. More significantly is that sense of feeling an art house film conjures up -- of being in the palm of the hand of a filmmaker whose work can stimulate in a way that mainstream cinema, beholden to formula and audience expectations cannot.

The premise of the film is a simple one; the idyllic life Andreas (Philipp Hochmair) and Stefan (Lukas Turtur) share together with their Tomcat, Moses, is suddenly interrupted by an inexplicable act of violence. Beneath the surface of this narrative simplicity lays the film's complex or inquisitive nature, and that returns us to the words of Carl Theodor Dreyer: “You can't simplify reality without understanding it first.” There's a futility present in the drama that emerges out of a question Hädl asks: “…psychotherapists talk of impulse control disorder -- but where do impulses come from? A blind spot, remnants of an unspeakable unpredictability lurk inside of me, an exiguous black hole without morals, without conscience, without sympathy, without mercy -- the possibility of a brutality that can break loose under certain circumstances.”

The film paints a deeply intimate portrait of how we ride the wave of our temperaments, of our emotions. It suggests that the human experience is one of constantly being out at sea, and while we can steer ourselves with our rational mind, our actions or decisions are coerced by these waves of temperamental impulse.

Tomcat is not the type of film one walks away from and describes as an entertaining experience. To do so would devalue the richness of its thoughtfulness, a mirror that offers an authentic rendition of the musicality of human feelings. While neither Andreas or Stefan are our literal mirror image, it is one that resonates. This resonance comes through conflict and regret, the rebuilding of trust that are common to us all and form part of the shared human experience.

This idea of film as a mirror or a reflection, a doorway to our emotions, raises the question as to the emptiness of the film form. One theory of aesthetics I recall reading, yet I have never been able to relocate, is the supposition that in a concert hall each individual member of the audience creates the music for themselves -- there's no such thing as a piece of music in a determined form. So is there any emotion in film? or is it solely the emotion we project onto the images? We habitually describe the emotion of the actors, the emotion of a scene, yet this is only the illusion of emotion because the actual emotion is projected from within us. Therein, Tomcat is an inanimate object that is liberated from the void of nothingness and imbued with an emotional identity through its reception.

Klaus’ film is dependent on us registering the truthful depiction of its characters' emotional journey that could or should feel a case of art imitating life. To the attentive spectator, it's an example of art observing the intimacy of human emotions, communication and interpersonal relationships that casts the film as conductor and the audience as the musicians of the orchestra. This is film beyond entertainment -- it's the observational curiosity of art to reflect back an intimate view of ourselves that bridges the literal and non-literal.

Stefan (Lukas Turtur) and Andreas (Philipp Hochmair)

Early in Tomcat, one feels like a voyeur, quietly prying into Andreas and Stefan’s idyllic life as they go to work, cook, host their friends and make love. The most dramatic elements are their lust or lovemaking, shot with a European openness that asserts that they share a passionate and sexually charged relationship -- in itself an indication that their domestic tranquility is underpinned by impulse. The first t30 minutes strikes one as unremarkable and uneventful, but in hindsight reveals itself to quite literally be the calm before the storm.

Klaus reminds us in his masterful approach that patience is sometimes the most powerful device for a filmmaker to impress the magic of the story upon their audience. Of course, the slow meandering pace does provoke the question: What is the point of the film? It's an important consideration as art house cinema is not interested in absolute immersion in the film because the audiences' external psychological space is just as critical. It is here that a deeper level of interaction takes place, a collaboration between the film and our familiarity with the onscreen emotions, which Tomcat relies on resonating within us as authentic renditions, and not a dramatic storytelling device. But beyond this, the question of relevance or purpose is a part of the process of discovering the value of a film. By deconstructing it to a level of meaninglessness, the reconstruction that follows creates a deeper understanding of the purpose and the value of the film.

The professions of Stefan, the musician, and Andreas the orchestra scheduler, create a synergy with the way we can perceive the film. The early idyllic could be seen as a prelude, and in fact, the whole film could be viewed as a four movement symphony. Yet while it might be tempting to see the violent act as interrupting the pleasant melody of their lives, such a point of view is naïve. It discounts what Jung always observed of life as a balance of happiness and suffering. Tomcat looks to the inevitable contrast of rhythms, how in amidst the whimsical, romantic, pleasant, soothing melodies there has to be violent, dark, eerie passages to offer any authentic rendition of a life lived.

If there is a futility present in the drama it is the “blind spot, remnants of an unspeakable unpredictability” that is innate to us all, and in Jungian fashion attests to confrontation with this shadow complex as being healthier than repression. Klaus could have easily dwelt on the darkness within, using Stefan as a prism through which to explore this impulsive shadow. Instead, he uses the violence as a device to create a film of emotion, a study of how we communicate and express ourselves emotionally in confronting choices and actions, however conscious, that can create a metamorphosis, but which in this filmmaker's hand is never oversimplified.

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