Thursday 20 May 2021

Defying gravity: "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Quiet"

Discovery is still a possibility. A few weeks back, I started to notice festival-going colleagues buzzing excitedly about The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Quiet, a 74-minute tragicomedy from the previously unheralded Argentinian filmmaker Ana Katz. Now, thanks to distributor Curzon's urgent need to occupy recently reilluminated screens and bolster its home-streaming service, here it is: a rush release for a movie that creeps up on you, and gradually wins you over. Fifteen minutes in, you may well be intrigued, but wondering just what all the critical fuss was about. An hour later, you'll likely emerge mulling over whether this is the most profound experience you've had in months. The film starts out in a shufflingly familiar mode of arthouse-indie naturalism, before Katz starts to shape her material into a forceful, affecting vision of the world, and How Things Go. Her hero is Sebastian (the director's brother Daniel Katz, who could pass for a down-at-heel Javier Bardem), a baleful-seeming slacker with an undercut and a sink clogged with unwashed dishes, and only one real friend: a puppy who's been keeping the neighbours up with its whining. (The conclusion they've reached is that both creatures are suffering from a bad case of loneliness.) Don't get too attached to the pooch, however: Katz's interest lies in what happens to its owner after his companion gets run over chasing cars. Suddenly removed of the canine weight that's been tethering him to the ground, our boy begins to drift like a balloon. What lies ahead of him is a potted history of love, loss, dependency, fate and rebirth - you know, the big stuff. But the narrative throughout is couched in small, everyday tragedies and setbacks, those bumps in the road that we're meant to get over (but which could throw any one of us for a loop). The film has a deceptive gravity.

That it expands - vastly - on its anecdotal premise is partly down to the attention Katz lavishes on every word and turn of it; it's the inverse of those big movies that throw all the action in the world at the screen, only to reveal they have nothing at their centre. Working within limited means, Katz has to stage her life-changing setpieces as flickerbook drawings, yet she shoots in an elegant monochrome that confers a fabular timelessness upon the most humdrum of activity, and she bends time to accommodate almost everyone who sets foot in front of her camera: the neighbours desperately hoping that damn dog will shut up (but not so much that they'd want it dead); the bosses at Seb's graphic-design firm trying to let him go in the nicest way possible; the young lovers snuggling on a bus this lonely guy takes at a moment of maximum solitude; the farm co-operative we eventually fall in with. One of the reasons the film seems to have charmed those who've so far seen it is that, beyond a certain point, it starts to gently wrongfoot us, and to move in unpredictable ways towards the kind of unforeseeable events that sometimes come to pass when you put yourself out there. These are generally too good to spoil, but I'll just note it was a particular surprise when the schlubby Seb transformed overnight into a DJ on a left-wing pirate radio station. (For a long time, he'd appeared incapable of stringing more than three consecutive words together.) At all junctures, Mr. Katz does his sibling proud, sketching a credible portrait of a young man who's growing and learning, doing his damnedest to make a better life for himself, only to find the universe has other ideas. We've all been there - never more so than over the past twelve months - but there's also a real, cosmic aptness to the rest of The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Quiet, a film that takes barely a line and a half about an illustrator and his dog for a surprising, satisfying walk.

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Quiet will be available to stream from tomorrow via Curzon Home Cinema.

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