Mimi Was

Mimi Was refers to our cat, Mimi, who died in 2016 in the midst of a deadly panleukopenia outbreak. This was my first experience with this virus, and I was not prepared for its outcomes. The outbreak swept through Yogyakarta, at a time when pet care was less robust and accessible, and as it started when one of our cats disappeared and then returned in a state of near-death. I thought he was injured; instead, he was carrying the virus, and for the brief time he was still alive, I unwittingly allowed the virus' exposure to his siblings. Soon after, they all developed fevers. Some died within a day of visiting the vet, others seemed to shrug off the illness and showed barely a sign of it, and a small number fought it bitterly, in visible agony.

Mimi fought for five days. Each day, his suffering increased. He forced himself to eat and drink until he could no longer tolerate it. And then he forced himself to get up and walk around, even as this insidious virus was destroying his insides. On the night he died, he crawled out of his bed and across the room, before finally resting in the corner. I only knew this because of the now-dry trail of blood that followed his body.

My grief on this day was tinged with anger—at the virus and my failure to help him—but Mimi was not the only cat in our care. I spent the rest of the morning cleaning and disinfecting the room, so I could return the surviving cats to it. One of them, Rocket, is visible towards the end. While cleaning, most of my mind was occupied with the injustice of a cat as beautiful and friendly as Mimi perishing a mere year into his life, and that a virus this violent in its mechanisms could be allowed to exist. I decided to film myself cleaning not because I wanted to depict these thoughts, but because I wanted to remember what I saw as I was thinking them: I could not replicate the smell, but I should forever be reminded of the pool of blood in Mimi's bed, and the large, dark-crimson stains he left behind. These reminders of suffering.

By the end of the outbreak, I'd learned my lesson, and the scenes shown here were my catalyst. We've cared for many cats since then, and my heart has been broken more times than I wish to mention, in some cases (frankly), irreparably so. The pain of losing Mimi, and Fennec, and Gothmog, and Trotsky, and Tata, and Foppa, and my favourite cat of all, Rocket, will always linger, as it (again, frankly) should. Sweet memories, after all, need bitter counterparts to balance the palate, and our heartache and memories of it are the machinery through which care is rendered and disease prevented.

Over the past few years, we've successfully meandered through every outbreak largely unscathed (rest in peace, Blob and Puffskein), and while one illness or another is ever-present, the least we can say is that the cats in our care are unreasonably happy. As of yesterday, every cat in our care is fully vaccinated, the last being a scabies-ridden juvenile someone abandoned on our doorstep, who is now completely healthy and extremely satisfied with his current lot in life. Mimi was many things. Sweet, talkative, nurturing, and totally determined to give everything he could to survive a pernicious disease. His corporeal form is gone, but the meaning of his fight lives on.

This resulting film is a remaster of one originally released in 2016 (still viewable here: https://youtu.be/wpagBnvvwpo), taking advantage of my access to better audiovisual tools. The sound was redone to more properly fit the tone and mood of the subject matter, using a mixture of expansion and dampening to evoke a mind wandering but focused on a task blocked off from the outside world. This was mostly achieved using Auburn Sounds' Lens and Panagement (https://www.auburnsounds.com). Besides the atmospheric additions, there is also the faint melody of a Chopin Nocturne, but it is distorted, elongated, and nearly inaudible (even on headphones), itself squeezed out by reality.

Meanwhile, the visuals are mostly unchanged, except for the higher bitrate and content warning. To anyone familiar with his work, the composition can be seen as an amateurish recreation of Béla Tarr—the black-and-white photography, long takes, mixed with an oppressive soundscape—but I'd be lying if I said it was intentional. It was filmed this way out of necessity: the focus is on the ground and not my face because the alternative would have been vanity, the long intervals between cuts because my focus was on the work to be done, and the cuts themselves occurring because DSLR cameras have a hard time limit and the camera stopped recording numerous times.

The only true similar expression is the length of the film. At 41 minutes, it depicts a single, monotonous task, from a static position (also superficially akin to Yasujirō Ozu). I cut it down to this duration to match what I think is a good length for music albums (40 to 50 minutes; satisfying but not bloated and indulgent). I wanted it to be long enough to convey the idea but not so much that I'm wasting the time of someone who wants to watch it through. It's long and static because it must be, but to be clear, when combined with the audio, I don't expect it to be pleasant to watch through, nor do I suggest that someone try to watch it through for the sake of it.


"Wind blowing in a field in Texas, USA" by felix.blume, https://freesound.org/people/felix.blume/sounds/217506, CC0

"A tree is creaking in the patagonian forest of Argentina in a deep creaky sound. (Argentina, Tierra del Fuego)" by felix.blume, https://freesound.org/people/felix.blume/sounds/140047, CC0

"winter wind 01a.aiff" by klangfabrik, https://freesound.org/people/klangfabrik/sounds/117504, CC0

"Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9 no. 2" composed by Frédéric Chopin, performed by Aya Higuchi, https://musopen.org/music/108-nocturnes-op-9, public domain


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License & Attribution

By Joaquim Baeta. This video and the files associated with it are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. You are free to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon them in any medium or format, provided you give appropriate credit to Joaquim Baeta, indicate any changes, and redistribute any derivative work under the same (or equivalent) license.

Example attribution: "Mimi Was" by Joaquim Baeta, https://scenoptica.com/film/mimi-was.html, CC BY-SA.