(Neither film featured in this issue's Bijou Beat can still be seen in theatres -- the first has been gone for weeks, the second for decades -- but both are worth seeking out at your local video store. -- Ed.)

When the Cat's Away

Living in a large city can be a mixed blessing. One is surrounded by millions of people but it's easy to feel detached, alone. And one is subject to so much stimulus that it can be tempting to simply hole up, to withdraw into one's own cocoon of an apartment. For the first few weeks after I moved to New York City, just over fifteen years ago, I found I was sleeping more than I'd ever done in my life -- eleven and twelve hours every day. I know now I was just hiding. I knew no one in New York, had no contacts, no attachments, no sense of community, and I didn't really know how to go about rectifying the situation. For me, it was easier just to sleep

Chloe, the protagonist of Cédric Klapisch's film, WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY, is a young Parisian whose personal detachment is made all too clear to her when she attempts to find someone to care for her cat, Gris-Gris, while she's away on holiday. Her list of prospects is a short one and even her roommate, with whom she seems to share a purely practical relationship, is unwilling to help her.

Chloe's predicament is further complicated by the fact that she lives in a neighborhood undergoing gentrification, a community in transition. Older buildings are being torn down, elder residents are being forced out. Cozy, welcoming little shops are being replaced by chic boutiques with little stake in the neighborhood.

Reduced then to combing the streets, Chloe begins asking local merchants for help in boarding Gris-Gris. Finally, a shopkeeper recommends an older woman in the neighborhood, Madam Renée, whom, it is said, is willing to care for cats. Imagine this: being reduced to leaving one's pet in the care of stranger you've met not ten minutes before.

Chloe's worst fears are confirmed when she returns from her vacation to learn that her cat has vanished under Madam Renée's watch. Renée is distraught -- never before has she lost a cat -- but not as distraught as Chloe who has lost her only friend. She sets out to plaster the neighborhood with posters proclaiming the disappearance of her Gris-Gris and in this effort is aided by the formerly aloof roommate and a local man, Djamel, who passes his days running errands for the elderly and infirm in the neighborhood. Djamel is himself so anxious for company that he refuses to separate from Chloe while distributing the flyers. It's clear he is a bit taken with Chloe and he makes it his business to go about finding Gris-Gris.

Chloe is also embraced by a circle of older women, cat-lovers all, who seem to have formed a sort of network of feline fanciers. They remain on constant watch, alert for any sign for Gris-Gris, and phone Chloe with any bit of news, no matter how insignificant. They seem to need this contact as badly as she does. It is open to question whether they are bonding with her over her predicament or assuaging their own loneliness.

The loss of Gris-Gris makes Chloe painfully aware of her solitary existence. Anyone who's ever tried to find his or her place in a large city will sympathize with Chloe as she resolves to remedy this situation, as she attempts to broaden her social circles, to fit in more readily with the various neighborhood cliques and subcultures she encounters in the course of the day.

WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY is a classic French film in many ways: It moves at a languid pace and its insights are subtle ones that insinuate themselves with the viewer slowly but surely as the film unspools. The film, like so many French films, seems on the surface to be quite slight; its plot, certainly, could be summed in a two or three sentences. But patient viewers will find this gentle film rewards their patience quite richly.

The Little Fugitive

If given a crack at taking a spin in a time machine, which direction would you go: forward in time, or back? If the latter, would you go back to the time of your parents' youth? Or would you travel further back - to Elizabethan England, to ancient Rome, to the Jurassic era?

I'd be tempted by all those options but, like a partygoer who arrives just as the bash is breaking up, I most often find myself drawn to scenes that I just missed: I traveled the length of Route 66 not during its heyday but in 1992, fully aware that for every glorious old motel at which I stayed, a dozen more had disappeared over the last two or three decades, that for every wonderfully cheezy tourist attraction I encountered, many more had been shuttered and were now but memories to those who marveled at them over the years.

Devotion to such faded glories requires an imaginative mind, a willingness to conjure - from the tiniest of clues - sites and sights that are now out of reach, that lie forever behind time's curtain.

I missed the glory days of Coney Island by a wide margin, too. I arrived in New York City in 1982 and didn't take that long ride on the F train until the early 90s: Steeplechase, the last of the Coney's great amusement parks, was closed and demolished in 1963.

Still, once or twice every summer I make the trek out to Coney Island to revel in what remains, the relics of bygone days that are still going strong: the Wonderwheel, a one-of-a-kind ferris wheel that will soon launch its 79th season ("and not a single death!", a sign at the ride's entrance proudly proclaims); the Cyclone, a glorious old wooden rollercoaster with a celebrated first drop which has been terrifying riders since 1922; Nathan's, home of the traditional Coney Island frank since 1906, and Philip's Candy Shop, where they've been serving up salt water taffy and other sweets made on the premises since 1930.

These and a small handful of other attractions continue to amaze and delight; still, one can't help but mourn what's missing, to pine for a living glimpse of Coney as it was in days gone by. Ric Burns eased the sense of loss a bit a few years back, producing directing a wonderful documentary for PBS that explored the early days of Coney Island and now the good folks at Kino Video have done their part by releasing on video a film that captures Coney as it was in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

THE LITTLE FUGITIVE is an independent film, originally released in 1953. Written and directed by the triumvirate of Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin and made on a shoestring budget, this black-and-white film details the adventures of young Joey, a seven-year-old who, while his mother is away tending to a sick relative, comes to believe that he has killed his older brother, Lennie (he hasn't). Urged by Lennie's pals (who are in on the gag) to take it on the lam, Joey heads for the subway, riding it to the end of the line, Coney Island.

Joey spends the next 24 hours eluding the policemen he's convinced are after him, riding kiddie rides, and eating junk food, bankrolling his spree with nickel deposits collected on bottles he finds on the beach. That the film focuses on kiddie rides and not on classic attractions like Steeplechase proves a bit frustrating at times but a watchful viewer gets an eyeful of classic Coney Island in the background and when Lennie finally comes in search of Joey, he takes a ride on the Parachute Jump, which still stands today but is no longer in use. It appears to have been a pretty frightening ride but still, I'd be the first to line up if it were to reopen.

The film stands on its own merits as a rather minimalist but entertaining comedy-drama. Although I'd guess that none of the actors involved were professionals, they are all possessed of a certain charm, especially Richard Brewster (Lennie) and Richie Andrusco (Joey). THE LITTLE FUGITIVE is a bit like an prolonged episode of "Leave it to Beaver," only here June is a single mother and she's raising Wally and the Beav in Brooklyn. Rent it on a weekend; you'll want to watch it twice: once for the story and once, with remote in hand and your finger on the pause button, for all the wonderful glimpses of Coney Island in days gone by.

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