Frank and the Wondercat
Directed by Tony Massil and Pablo Alvarez-Mesa
This documentary centred around the Frank Furko, an odd octogenarian whose now deceased cat, Pudgie Wudgie, was a local celebrity in their hometown of Pittsburgh, manages to break the mold of imitative, stagnating docs that festivals often attract in droves. Massil and Alvarez-Mesa have found a perfect subject in Frank and approach him with a natural, easy going camera: no talking heads and barely a shot of stock footage, just a wondering frame following Frank as he tells his stories to whoever will listen, and a sense of time travel via VHS footage Frank himself shot throughout his life.
Pudgie Wudgie was a trained house cat, whom Frank outfitted with countless custom-made costumes, made television appearances, did live shows, and gave Frank a lifetime of eccentric anecdotes. It’s a touching portrait of a man and his cat. By avoiding the trappings of more traditional documentaries, Frank and the Wondercat allows its audience more freedom in assessing its subject on their own terms, rather than serving up a hot-take that they have no choice but to accept. The rambling, low-key nature of the film encourages the questions: What makes a subject “wondrous” or worthy of a documentary? Why should we care about Frank, with or without his “Wonder Cat”? But the film is so adept at allowing the mundane to reveal the spark of life at its centre that by the end, those questions shift and merge until we may as well ask, why wouldn’t we care?
As the film progresses, the tricks and training’s importance wanes. An eccentric man and his trained cat may be a story, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Frank himself; opening up about how his father never said he loved him or was proud of Frank until he was on his deathbed, the reasons behind why Frank didn’t remarry (“I gave the cat all the attention”), to the aching sadness behind his eyes as he watches the old tapes of Pudgie Wudgie, who becomes not just a cat, but Frank’s lifeline in an inlet and outlet for love.
While it never abandons its quirky subject matter or its natural levity, Frank and the Wondercat functions as a compelling window into Frank’s past and how it mirrors his present. An intimate documentary that celebrates and explores life rather than selling a cause, Masil and Alvarez-Mesa have crafted a beautiful film.
The Vancouver International Film Festival takes place from September 24 – October 9, 2015. Visit the official website for more information.