I am watching the most oddball animated film, called The Rabbi's Cat. It's set in Algeria (and other parts of North Africa) in the 1930s, and it's got a cast of characters ranging from the main rabbi (a rather bumbling and ordinary sort of guy), a lion tamer, a Sufi mystic, Bedouins, colonialist snobs, a pogrom-survivor from Russia, and myriad others. The artwork is beautiful, and the story takes place in the context of being Jewish or Arab in colonial Algeria, pogroms in Russia, Communism, racism, dueling, father-daughter tensions, the range of religious expression from "fundamentalist" to mystical... and the cat. Which can (often) talk intelligibly, which is sometimes a great aid to the human characters and sometimes a terrible liability... the cat spends a good deal of time mocking or criticizing the humans for their unquestioning beliefs and a variety of relationships to God and religion are often the subject of conversation or plot twists (such as in the ongoing conversations between the ordinary-guy rabbi and his Sufi-mystic friend).
Not such a dharma film maybe, but it is just delightful, quite deep, intriguingly quirky and takes place in such an unusual setting. Highly recommended.
Thanks for that recommendation; it reminds me that there is a reference to Martin Buber and an extraordinary cat in Meetings With the Archangel. It had to do with the cat's ability to transmit a state of enlightenment, as I recall.
I'd never thought to research where Steven Mitchell had got the idea to write about a cat, until just now.
"Ich‑Du ("I‑Thou" or "I‑You") is a relationship that stresses the mutual, holistic existence of two beings. It is a concrete encounter, because these beings meet one another in their authentic existence, without any qualification or objectification of one another. Even imagination and ideas do not play a role in this relation. In an I–Thou encounter, infinity and universality are made actual (rather than being merely concepts). Buber stressed that an Ich‑Du relationship lacks any composition (e.g., structure) and communicates no content (e.g., information). Despite the fact that Ich‑Du cannot be proven to happen as an event (e.g., it cannot be measured), Buber stressed that it is real and perceivable. A variety of examples are used to illustrate Ich‑Du relationships in daily life—two lovers, an observer and a cat, the author and a tree, and two strangers on a train. Common English words used to describe the Ich‑Du relationship include encounter, meeting, dialogue, mutuality, and exchange."
I started reading 'I and Thou' at the monastery over Christmas because I'm particularly interested in the link between the idea that 'I' am a separate sovereign subject, and relationships of domination and exploitation toward others (I also think of Levinas who was a mystically inclined too) - there's a great feminist psychoanalyst, Jessica Benjamin, who writes on this (The Bonds of Love).
There's some fantastic stuff in the work of people who explore this area, that's relevant to dharma and contemplative practice I think - for example, the idea of hospitality as being premised on the unknowability of the Other, the need to be open to precisely whatever 'knocks at the door' whether it will be experienced as bringing happiness or suffering. If hospitality or welcome is conditional, it's not worthy of the name. And therefore it's always dangerous in making us vulnerable. That's true too, I think, of being open to 'the world,' other people, the present moment...
And speaking of cats, I think of Derrida's "The Animal That Therefore I Am":
“Before the cat that looks at me naked, would I be ashamed like an animal that no longer has the sense of nudity? Or on the contrary, like a man who retains the sense of his nudity? Who am I therefore? Who is it that I am (following)? Whom should this be asked of if not of the other? And perhaps of the cat itself?"
The film sounds very worth checking out, thanks for the rec!