As widely maligned as it can be, there is no denying that utilising a found footage aesthetic is appealing to amateur and independent filmmakers working on a shoestring budget. Using the low-budget effect of handheld camcorders and POV cinematography, the remainder of the meagre cost can be used to create special effects in post-production (as is the case with horror or fantasy-oriented found footage movies), or to acquire actors.
Audiences may be put off because of the gimmicky aesthetic, but there is no denying that a found footage concept helps filmmakers get high concept genre films off the ground without breaking the bank to fund it.
Blood curdling comedy
Be My Cat: A Film for Anne, the debut film from director Adrian Țofei, is an entirely different proposition. Whereas the majority of this subgenre comes under criticism for the central unbelievability of characters filming their surroundings during a time of peril, Romania’s first ever found footage film instead takes the subverted form of a “making of” documentary, in pre-production for a movie that will never actually get made. Although billed as a psychological horror, Țofei‘s film is never scary – instead, it is a jet black comic satire with a lead character equal parts Patrick Bateman psychotic and Stanley Kubrick filmmaking obsessive.
In one of the film’s many metatextual flourishes, the lead character is played by the writer/director – and named after him too. The character of Adrian is a budding filmmaker in Romania, who has written a screenplay for a horror film called “Be My Cat”, in which he hopes Anne Hathaway, the most successful screen Catwoman to date, will star.
He considers her to be one of the best actresses alive and knows that she will be able to deliver a method acting performance perfectly calibrated to suit his demanding needs. Before she accepts the role, he needs to workshop the film with three young Romanian actresses (Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton and Alexandra Stroe, all playing fictionalised versions of themselves) unaware of what awaits them, filming everything he does to them to send to the Hollywood actress he is obsessed with.
Because Țofei clearly has his tongue in cheek with this oddball found footage escapade, his character never becomes terrifying, even as his psychosis is very clearly signposted. One of the few issues I had with the film is the lack of ambiguity in regards to his central character – in the earlier stages of Be My Cat, the movie initially hints that the role should be read as a satire of demanding auteurs with brutal methods to get the best performances from their actors.
By the time the first act ends, it inevitably loses any aspirations towards a more challenging characterisation in favour of portraying a one-note (albeit highly entertaining) madman. Țofei’s performance is fun, initially annoying by design before the character’s mental state begins to reveal itself more clearly. The only criticism would be that this is an easy performance, due to the lack of character development ensuring that he only has to hit psychotic beats throughout – but in an over-the-top media satirisation, that isn’t particularly a call for concern.
Multiple layers of meta satire
Unlike many other films with meta elements, Be My Cat remains admirably understated in its commentary on the often problematic nature of filmmaking. When the first actress, played by Sonia Teodoriu, arrives for filming, the “director” eventually collapses into an uncontrollable rage after she fails to comply with his Fincher-esque demand to be filmed repeatedly walking in a straight line.
Witnessed through continuous found footage, the line between reality and film is blurred, as it doesn’t become immediately clear whether this is a meta-construct for the film within a film, or an early collapse in production. The actress immediately walks off set, being chased by the director who keeps spouting nonsense about her “loving” him – a bizarre statement that feeds into the idea that this too is a strange aspect of performance, reminiscent of the meta line recital sequences in Clouds of Sils Maria, albeit infinitely less highbrow.
Each of the three actresses serve a purpose not just for the narrative, but in splitting the film into three distinct chapters which can be read like this; the first is a parody of obsessive filmmaking, the second a satire on the patronising arrogance of filmmakers and the third part an overall parody on found footage concepts and classic horror tropes. The actress in the second chapter, portrayed by Florentina Hariton, is immediately derided by the director for being too old and not pretty enough for his film. This aside is designed as a clear parallel for the petty ageism of Hollywood executives, whose mindset the character is trying to imitate in order to capture the attention of one of Tinseltown’s biggest stars.
Without spoiling the macabre insanity of the film, it should be mentioned that the project quickly reveals itself to be a snuff film – yet the delusion of the main character ensures it is never viewed in that manner, despite the content we see on camera. As a piece of genre filmmaking that equally acts as a satirical commentary on the media, Be My Cat invites comparisons to A Serbian Film – although it doesn’t rely on extremity of any sort to hammer its points home, even with a central allegory viewed through the lens of snuff filmmaking.
With so many layers of meta commentary blurring the lines between reality and film, Be My Cat is an enjoyably oddball watch. As entertaining and inspired as it is, the lack of any scares or suspense does dilute any aspirations towards bone-chilling horror – but in terms of manic invention on a shoestring budget, Țofei’s film is more memorable and far more interesting than the majority of the found footage genre.
What are the best found footage movies?