Thursday, December 22, 2011

Vincent Bal's fine feline, MISS MINOES, arrives for the holidays -- one decade late

The backstory of MISS MINOES is very nearly as interesting as the the film itself: a sweet, slight family treat about the title character, a cat who is transformed into a young woman (Carice van Houten, of Black Book and Black Death) who befriends Tibbe (Theo Maassen, shown in photo at bottom of post), a not-very-bright cub reporter for the local news-paper, and, with the help of the local felines, enables Tibbe to land some "scoops" and keep his job. Based on the 1970 novel by Annie M. G. Schmidt (one of Holland's most popular writers of children's tales) and brought to the screen by adapter/director Vincent Bal (shown below) and his co-adapters Tamara Bos and Burny Bos, the movie alternates sweet and saucy and even has it leading child character utter a four-letter word and get slapped rather nastily by the chief villain. (Certain parents will take umbrage at this, but kids'll love it.)

Surprisingly enough, the film was actually made in 2001 and released in Holland that December, after which it became the most popular Dutch film of the year and went on in 2002 to win the Best Feature Film award at the Netherlands Film Festival -- known in Holland as Golden Calf, a statuette/idol that Moses would have undoubtedly smashed. (Ms van Houten, below, also grabbed a deserved "Calf" for Best Actress.) Here in the US, Miss Minoes won Best Film at the Chicago Children's Film Festival -- an award and a venue that seems a bit more in keeping with the level of this movie. Despite a DVD release in the U.S. (carrying the new title of Undercover Kitty) from a now defunct video company, the film has gone largely unseen here in the states.

Cue Music Box Films, purveyor of quality foreign-language movies to the USA over the past few years, which felt the film was worthy of a theatrical release, despite a decade's delay. I would agree. Miss Minoes is good, silly, fantasy fun, done with style and pace and just different enough to provide receptive American kids (and their parents) an oddball treat.

And Ms van Houten could hardly be better. Those of us familiar with her work already know how beautiful she is. Here, in one of her early roles, with cat-like bearing and reticence, she's simply stunning as the newly human woman, sweet, sexy, funny and utterly adroit -- first moment to last.

Miss Minoes loves hanging out on rooftops (above) but takes to a tree, below, whenever a dog comes upon the scene, and is happy sleeping in a cardboard box and eating fresh, uncooked fish, right down to the bone. She also befriends the plucky little sub-heroine, nicely played in her film debut by Sarah Bannier, above, right.

The remainder of the cast fulfill their roles adequately in this, one of Music Box's rare forays unto dubbing. (The company simply could not have left the language intact, as young children would not be able to read the subtitles.) The dubbing is not bad, but it's not very good either. In my experience viewing dubbing, the results seem to fall into two camps: one that insists on translating the dialog correctly, even if the lip-syncing does not quite match; and the second that matches lip movement to sound almost perfectly but sacrifices meaning and content in the process. Using the first "style" of dubbing, sounds sometime appears when lips don't move (and vice versa); with the second style, a line like "Yes, I killed him, and I'm glad he's dead!" can be transposed to "Oh, my god, that purple car is now red!" But, boy, the lip movement is exact. Miss Minoes, thank goodness, errs on the side of the first dubbing style. The content and meaning come through just fine, but you will see a lot of odd lip movement, so maybe set your gaze elsewhere on the screen.

Miss Minoes  (92 minutes, dubbed in English and rated PG) opens tomorrow, Friday, December 23, in New York City at the Cinema Village and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre. More cities and venues are in the works. Click here to view them, eventually.

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