“My name is Henri. I am a black cat. I live a life of luxury. My caretakers love me. But I feel empty. My filtered water tastes impure. I rarely purr. My turkey and giblets has begun to taste exactly like my whitefish and tuna in gravy.” —Henri, le Chat Noir
Thus the story of Henri, le Chat Noir, began. It was told in English captions over flickering black-and-white film footage with narration in (somewhat shaky) French by Seattle film student Will Braden. “Henri” (2007) was Braden’s class project, but the two-and-a-half-minute film, in the style of avant-garde French cinema, went viral.
The character of Henri was played by Henry, a longhaired tuxedo cat owned by Braden’s mother. He captured our hearts with his philosophical acceptance of a life of inevitable disappointment.
A second Henri film, “Paw de Deux,” triumphed over 10,000 other cat videos to win the first Internet Cat Video Film Festival in 2012. Braden, somewhat astonished by this success, went on to produce a total of 17 short films about the long-suffering existentialist feline. There are also two Henri, le Chat Noir books.
Henry, who lived with Braden’s mother and her three other cats, retired from acting in 2018. He was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition and died earlier in early December 2020, at age 17. In a moving post on le Chat Noir’s Facebook page, Braden assures us that the real Henry was a perfectly happy, easygoing cat who lived a rich and rewarding life.
“He was a good-natured and happy cat, and as far as I could tell, never suffered a single existential crisis during his life,” Braden writes.
We’re relieved to hear that. Because many cat parents worry that our cats are like the onscreen Henri. We dread that thousand-yard stare that suggests that they are…disappointed. Disillusioned. We worry that the expensive cans of pate we offered have, once again, failed to impress.
It’s a relief to know that behind even the sternest feline visage there can be a perfectly well-satisfied cat. Like Henry, le Chat Noir, who enjoyed Party Mix.
Like many film stars, Henry rose from a modest background. He was born in 2003 and adopted as a kitten from the Seattle Animal Shelter. Braden was pet-sitting for Henry in 2006 when he got the idea to use the cat for a film school assignment. The rest is history.
Braden and Henry have been involved for many years with the Cat Video Fest, a national organization that raises money for regional cat rescue organizations.
Braden (described by the put-upon cat as “the thieving filmmaker”) recorded Henri’s dismal views on many subjects: Veterinarians. Art. The coming of spring. Grooming. Politics. And of course, dogs.
While Henry is gone, Henri’s cinematic legacy lives on. The folks at Boing Boing compiled a complete linked listing of Henri, le Chat Noir’s films, which can also be found directly on the YouTube channel HenriLeChatNoir.
In our house, it would not be Christmas without watching Henri take the role of a feline Scrooge in “The Worst Noel.” (“I live with other cats, and each annoys me in a unique way.”)
We celebrate Halloween with a viewing of Henri in “L’Haunting.” (“None of these costumes are truly scary,” the cat observes. “No one ever dresses as crippling self-doubt.”)
Those of us here at Rover are particularly fond of “The Cat Is Sat.” It documents the tragedy of cats left for an entire weekend in the care of a clueless teenager. (Dare we point out that Henri’s family could have spared themselves his contempt—and revenge—if they had contacted one of our cat sitters?)
The makers of Friskies commissioned a four-part series with Henri, “On Cat Food Boredom,” and later a stand-alone short film on bacon. (“They selfishly keep it for themselves,” Henri notes.)
Henri even inspired parody, the grim but soulful “Heinrich, die Katze.”
As the Henri series progressed, we saw Braden get better at filmmaking and French, but the character of long-suffering Henri endured. As did the role of his sidekick, a goofily cheerful white cat Henri refers to as “l’imbecile blanc” (the white imbecile).
“I tried bouncing ideas off the white idiot,” Henri confides in his final film, “Oh, Revoir” (2018). “But nothing bounced back.”
In his announcement of Henry’s passing, Braden reflects on how this dignified house cat captured so many hearts.
“I started to realize that it was his imperious stare and the nobility behind his eyes that made Henri work, more than my terrible French and pedestrian piano playing,” Braden writes. “No one had a problem immediately accepting that this cat was a deep-thinking philosopher.”
Adieu, Henry. It was a wonderful life.
This 2013 book combines photos by Braden with the musings of Henri on subjects such as raccoons, mirrors, food dishes, and the vacuous nature of cats. Other cats.Shop on Amazon
Henri returned in 2016 with a second book of photos, containing his reflections on life with humans. (His opinion of them had not improved.)Shop on Amazon
Featured image via Karen Anderson