Spoiler alert: no animals are harmed in this film and definitely no dogs die. This may be a strange way to start a movie review, but in this case, filmmaker Elizabeth Lo is sure to get it. She has said that her kick-start for Stray, her first full-length feature film, was the death of her dog and her experience of the process of grieving. It was a transformative moment for her – as she puts it, and the event that “drives Stray’s exploration of value, hierarchy and sentience”.
This calm, yet extraordinary film is set in and around the Turkish capital, Istanbul. This is followed by three unrelated stray dogs, adults Zeytin and Nazar and puppy Kartal. Of the three, Zeytin is the main actor in the 72-minute film. Though stately and grand, she is also vulnerable. Without delving too deep into the anthropomorphism, I felt her grab the camera lens. Like yesterday’s film divas – Marlene, Greta or Ingrid – it captivates the viewer.
Turkey has had an eventful history with its stray dog population. She tried to destroy them in the last century, but from 2004 changed her policy in the face of widespread protests against these murders. Today Turkey is the only country where it is actually illegal to euthanize or even detain stray dogs. The land’s non-possessed dogs are roaming free; As Lo said, referring to the status of these dogs, they are “emblems”[s] of resistance – living manifestations of compassion in the face of intolerance. ”
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The film, which has a nontraditional narrative, doesn’t follow a single story arc. Rather, Lo notes that she left the narration to the dogs themselves. Their intent was to lyrically and effectively capture the daily lives of the non-possessed dogs – what they see in their daily search for food, shelter, and, to some extent, company. That in itself fascinates every dog lover. Lo’s camera also captures the crossbreeds of the dogs with a trio of homeless Syrian refugees, young men who appear to be the ones who gave the dog names.
While the dogs don’t live with these young men, they do spend time with them, almost as if they were puffing around with them. When the boys call their names, the dogs come running. Often accompanied by the dogs, the boys look for sleeping places on construction sites or simply on a quiet sidewalk; Unfortunately, they are also looking for spots to indulge in their glue-sniffing habit.
By cuddling with the boys in their sleep, the dogs act as both protectors and a source of warmth, making up for the lack of blankets and bedding. You can definitely see their real love and interdependence, the way boys and dogs form a makeshift family group on the fringes of society.
Although the film does not have a script per se, it has a distinctive sound quality that includes “found sounds” – street sounds or snippets of conversation from nearby cafes (often related to relationship problems) recorded with a bi-directional microphone. Surprisingly, we hear an exchange with a plumbing worker jumping off his truck to accuse one of the other bitches of being a “selfish asshole” when the dog Zeytin steals a bone when she was given one too. He prevents a fight and brings the stolen bone back to Zeytin. Another comes when a father gives his toddler something to eat to offer the dogs, to reassure the child that the gentle dogs will not harm him. There are also cases when people are not kind or generous to dogs, but there is no thoroughgoing cruelty.
Together with a classic, impressive original score by Ali Helnwein to set the stage, Lo uses poster-like quotes from ancient philosophers to underline or perhaps even explain their intention, namely to tell a story about “lived experiences of those who that society has left behind. ”
Cleverly and effectively, the action is interrupted and quotes from ancient philosophers are displayed on the screen. For example: “Dogs and philosophers do the best and get the fewest rewards” (Diogenes, 368 BC) or “Dogs watch over people to make sure not that they do not lose their property but that they do not lose theirs Being deprived of integrity ”(Themistius, 317 AD).
Some may wonder how (and why) a Muslim country introduced this humane law on street dogs. Regardless, Turkey offers amazing examples that other countries can learn from. Although not directly included in this movie, organizations like the Animal Rights Federation in Turkey (which is featured in the credits) have carried out successful humane campaigns. These include “a water tank” that provides water to stray dogs and stray cats, and “apply the brakes,” which urges people to take responsibility if they injure an animal. The latter is particularly appropriate; Many scenes in this film show dogs having to drive along busy roads with a number of street performers. And best of all, there’s a kiosk owned by a company called Pugedon that trades pet food for a plastic bottle. Put the used bottle in a slot and the snack comes out for a hungry dog.
What I especially appreciated was the way Lo showed that Zeytin and the other dogs weren’t defined by their relationship with humans. While spending time with the cubs, we also see them “crossing class, ethnicity, and gender lines in ways only stray dogs can”. That makes the final scene of the film all the more poignant. I had to cry, not out of sadness, but because the scene itself was so moving and cinematic extraordinary.
At the beginning of the lending process, we see the beautiful Zeytin in a full screen, who is resting on a piece of ground on the outskirts of the city. Then begins an azan calling to prayer from a nearby mosque. Zeytin lifts his head and tends to make a noise. Then she goes along for almost two full minutes, howling and howling and howling. Both the azan and the soulful song of the dog go straight to your heart, as does this extraordinary film.
Stray opens March 5th in select theaters across the country or on streaming. More information on streaming alternatives.