OFFBEAT: Chicago Gene Siskel Film Center 'the cat's meow'

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-01-10T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Chicago Gene Siskel Film Center 'the cat's meow'By Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

For anyone who hasn't visited the swank and affordable Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, just across the street from the Chicago Theatre, now's a perfect time.

On Wednesday, I caught up with Barbara Scharres, director of programming at the Center, and she was excited to remind me they are kicking off the new year with the animated foreign film feature for adults called "The Rabbi's Cat."

The 80-minute feature, which is having its Chicago premiere through Jan. 17, is entirely in French with easy-to-read English subtitles.

Adapted from the quirky French comic books of Joann Sfar, the animation film is set in Algiers in 1920 where a rabbi's lean and feisty cat miraculously gains the gift of speech along with a witty intelligence and sly philosophical bent. His crush on his master's voluptuous daughter is temporarily thwarted, so the curious feline becomes party to the rabbi's adventures on a trip through the Sahara in search of a lost Ethiopian city. I'm told filmmakers Antoine Delesvaux and Joann Sfar stir up a wild and provocative mix of cultural and religious confrontations mediated by humor starring the French voices of Francois Morel, Maurice Benichou, Mathieu Amalric and Hafsia Herzi.

Barbara, who has been with the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1974, gave me a great tidbit about this fun feline film. She said the original plan of the filmmakers was to dub "The Rabbi's Cat" in English prior to it being released in the U.S. and they selected Woody Allen to provide the cat's distinct voice.

"Partially because this film has such a large vocal cast behind all of the characters, I believe the project just became too cost-prohibitive, so it was left in French and given English subtitles," she told me.

We are so fortunate to have this film center in our readership. Originally, it was founded as The Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1972. It moved to its current location with state-of-the-art theaters at 164 N. State St. in the Chicago Loop in June 2001 and was officially renamed in honor of film critic Gene Siskel, who died far too soon at age 53 in February 1999.

Tickets to each screening are $11 general admission, $7 students, and $6 for Film Center members. All tickets may be purchased at the Film Center Box Office or through Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787 or

The film center also offers beer and wine, in addition to a variety of coffee drinks as well as all of the favorite concession picks.

The Film Center membership is a year-round ticket to great movies that amounts to just $6 per screening, with memberships priced at $50 (Individual) and $80 (Dual). For more information, call (312) 846-2600.

Discounted parking is available for $14 for nine hours at the InterPark SELF-PARK at 20 E. Randolph St. A rebate ticket can be obtained from the Film Center Box Office.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.


Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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