The first dialogue in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s writing-directing debut, a well-reviewed film in the Australian post-New Wave, is addressed (affectionately) to a stray tabby cat. The speaker is Andy, an easy-going kitchen hand (Russell Crowe), who feeds the animal scraps in the alleyway behind the restaurant where he works.
The film’s central character is Martin (Hugo Weaving), a blind photographer with profound trust issues and an intense love-hate relationship with his housekeeper (Geneviève Picot). Andy will be the catalyst whose presence in Martin’s life will initiate the drama and lead to the film’s resolution – but how to get two characters from such different worlds to meet?
Simples. Getting people together is what CATGUFFINS do.
While walking down the alleyway with his white stick, Martin accidentally knocks over some crates, crushing the cat. For while, it looks as though poor Ugly will be an early CATRIFICE.
Andy (accusingly): You killed Ugly. I think you broke his neck.
Martin (without emotion, after touching the cadaver): It’s not dead.
Andy: Aw shit. Sorry, Ugly.
The two men take Ugly to the vet, where there’s a long scene with the limp cat and other animals in the waiting-room. Meanwhile, the blind photographer takes photographs of Andy with the unconscious cat (so limp it looks suspiciously like a lifeless stand-in), and continues to take them in the vet’s surgery, where the animal is (happily) revived. Hurrah!
It’s an absorbing, unusual film which has funny moments (the absurdity of a photographer being blind is never forgotten) but has interesting things to say about human interdependency and is not generally played for laughs. Plus there are likeable early performances from Weaving and Crowe, two future Antipodean superstars – and what a pleasure it is to see young Russell interacting with Ugly.
Bill is played by Corey. We’re not told who played Ugly, which is a shame.