Movie Reviews: Pariah Dog, Los Reyes, Buddy

Global Must-See Documentaries for Dog Lovers
By Cameron Woo, December 2019, Updated January 2020

Documentaries often take approaches that eschew traditional narrative forms. Three new films from disparate parts of the globe capture the subtle rhythms and details of canine life in unique and contemplative ways.

PARIAH DOG (Jesse Alk | USA)

This film documents the harsh lives of street dogs in Kolkata, India, and focuses on four individuals who have dedicated their lives to caring for them. The caretakers are ordinary individuals of modest means whose motivations are sincere but complex. Some relate to the outsider status of the impoverished dogs in a way that reflects India’s stringent class society. For others, their relationship to the strays is existential questioning the notion of suffering and the deities who would allow it. In an interview on the eve of the film’s premiere at the 2019 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, director Jesse Alk said, “Pariah Dog centers around universal themes—loneliness, compassion (or lack thereof), personal fulfillment and the search for meaning.”

 

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BUDDY (Heddy Honigmann | Netherlands)

Veteran Dutch documentary filmmaker Honigmann takes an unsentimental look at six service dogs and their humans, to great effect. The portraits are intimate and benefit greatly from the director’s skills of observation and interviewing. The subjects are fascinating. The film shows the extraordinary support and tasks the dogs perform for their people, and the incredible depths of their bond. This is not a technical documentation about service dogs (selection and training techniques are barely alluded to), but rather, an in-depth examination of relationships … human and canine.

 

LOS REYES (Bettina Perut, Iván Osnovikoff | Chile)

This extraordinary film is a meditation on dogness. Chilean filmmakers Bettina Perut and Iván Osnovikoff originally intended to make a documentary about the young inhabitants of Los Reyes, a skateboard park in Santiago, Chile, but found themselves fascinated by two stray dogs who lived there. The result is a 75-minute slice of urban life centered on the mundane activities of two scruffy mutts, Fútbol and Chola. As the dogs entertain themselves by dropping balls into the park’s deep concrete bowls and fetching plastic bottles, young skateboarders fly around the periphery. While the human presence is felt, the film is a study of canine life. Nothing much happens, yet the film’s curiosity and artistry explore the most minute details— the dogs’ shaggy fur, close-ups of leathery noses and rough pads— along with the insects and detritus hat pass through their scrappy urban life. Though they have neither narrative nor script, Fútbol and Chola become two of filmdom’s most memorable characters. The audacity of the subject matter and the exquisite cinematography are reminders that the riches of the world are often found in the most humble corners of the universe.

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 99: Fall 2019