As this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival takes off, I found myself gravitating toward the festival’s short films selections. Two of these films couldn’t be any more different, and yet they stuck with me due to the way they present their themes. Whether by design or accident, Halima Ouardiri’s “The Skates” (French: “Les Patins”) as well as Bryan Tucker and Netsanet Tjirongo’s “Savi the Cat” examine family dynamics to varying degrees of success.
With one film seen through the eyes of a child of divorce, the other plays as an interview between husband and wife, and how they lost and found their cat. Whatever the case is, both short films show how NOT to parent a child and an animal.
Here are a few thoughts on “The Skates” and “Savi the Cat.”
‘The Skates’ Touches Upon Emotional Manipulation to Make Children of Divorce Take Sides
Adolescent Mina excitedly prepares for her figure skating lesson one day. She receives a gift — a new pair of skates — from her father, who accompanies Mina to her lesson. As we see the young girl pick the sport up quickly (having been taught by her mother), something happens on the way home involving the skates that sours up the entire day. Fortunately, Mina’s father wishes not to let the unfortunate incident cloud the evening, so they spend more quality time together, enough for Mina to feel better by the time the film ends.
While this seems like a feel-good film, Ouardiri’s ‘The Skates’ is anything but. In just thirteen minutes, the film shows Mina’s figure skating lesson becoming the latest battleground in the marital warfare between her parents. While we only see Mina’s mother at the end, the look of utter hatred the former partners exchange between themselves proves enough for the audience to contextualize the acrimony between the two.
[Related SBIFF Reviews: ‘A Bird Called Memory’ and ‘Incroci’]
Gaslighting, Parenting Style
Seen through the eyes of a child and her aspirations in figure skating, the film is hard to watch largely due to its realism. Halima Ouardiri’s storytelling engages her audiences, even if at times it becomes uncomfortable to witness unfolding. Indeed, scenes between Mina’s father blaming the young girl for something the later didn’t do borders on gaslighting, and yet the simple story remains gripping even if it’s not an easy watch.
And I think that kind of simplicity in telling a serious story allows this Quebecois short to skate by (pun intended) without tripping over. It manages all that, despite the subject matter dealing with terrible parenting post-divorce, and its effects on the children who find themselves in the middle of crossfires.
‘Savi the Cat’ Banks on a Happy Ending While Glossing Over Irresponsible Fur Parenting
“Savi the Cat,” Bryan Tucker and Netsanet Tjirongo’s short film, introduces us to Ken and Kaila, a real-life couple whose love for each other is made clear from the get-go. Early on in their married life, Ken decides to rescue a feisty cat among a pack of kittens in a box, and names it Savi. He then brings it home to Kaila as a surprise, knowing how much his wife adores cats; and despite the fact that he isn’t a fan, and that he doesn’t know a thing about taking care of one.
Ken admits just as much, stating he never knew how something so small could upend his marriage and turn his life upside down. This cluelessness comes to the fore as both of them are ill-prepared for the damage Savi would wreak on their home. Those acts of destruction, presented in gorgeous and playful animation, provide comic relief throughout the movie.
Fur Parenting Involves Planning — Something The Characters Missed
The main problem I have with “Savi the Cat” is that the film is essentially an eye-opening story about how a married couple’s (mis)adventures taking care of the titular cat helped them uncover the areas in their relationship they needed to work on. Ken and Kaila clearly love each other and it shows. They openly talk about their past communication problems as well as their lack of quality time together.
Those discussions, however, made them realize how adopting Savi actually represented their problems, manifested in feline form. And while it ends on a very positive note, the couple pondered how things could’ve been had Savi been a toddler instead.
And that musing is where we find out how the film essentially glosses over people’s tendency for irresponsible fur parenting. Sure, “Savi the Cat” is a story with a happy ending for the couple and the titular cat. But imagine the more harrowing stories of cats who their humans returned to animal shelters; and who, upon their escape, never made their way back home.
Both short films will screen at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which runs from February 7 to 14, 2024. ‘The Skates’ will screen as part of the festival’s Narrative Shorts 1 (Friends vs. Foes). ‘Savi the Cat’, on the other hand, is part of SBIFF’s Comedy Shorts category. Follow us for more coverage.