"Dead Dog" is a rough-edged, naturalistic tale of a teenage single mother caught between parental obligations and the need to lead her own life.

As aimless and downbeat as its heroine, “Dead Dog” is a rough-edged, naturalistic tale of a teenage single mother caught between parental obligations and the need to lead her own life. Sacrificing the material’s implicit drama on the altar of neorealism, helmer Camilo Becerra uses the kind of lengthy shots and muttering perfs that bring to mind the work of the Dardenne brothers. However, the lack of a compelling dramatic hook leaves this “Dog” as lifeless as its title suggests. Outside Latin American fests, interest will be limited.

Alejandra (Rocio Monasterio) lives with her young son Nico (Rafael Avila) in a house owned by Braulio (Daniel Antivilo), whose mother Alejandra cared for until her death. Braulio’s son, who is Nico’s father, has disappeared, and since Braulio wants to sell the house now, he tells Alejandra she must leave.

Alejandra sells stolen clothes on the street and does some sewing to make ends meet. Her slobbish friend Pajaro (Cristian Parker) gets a dog, which, to Alejandra’s irritation, he gives to Nico. Unable to take on the extra burden, she abandons the pooch; later, she finds it dead by the roadside and has to lie to Nico about where it’s gone. A photographer (Daniel Antivilo) offers to take some shots of her for pro purposes, but nothing comes of it. Indeed, nothing comes of anything any of the characters do.

As a study of a girl unjustly stuck in a limbo between enforced responsibility and desired freedom, the pic is fine, with scenes set in cramped interiors well used to show the stifling sense of inertia that keeps Alejandra from moving forward. She’s not even 20, and already her life is mapped out.

Unsmiling and embittered looking, Monasterio, projecting the air of a hunted mutt, manages to catch both Alejandra’s innocence and her experience. But her passivity and her inability to talk about or show her feelings make spending time in her company wearying.

Pic is strongest when focusing on the little details of human interaction, particularly between Alejandra and the cute, woolly hatted Nico and the charismatic Braulio. Much of the iconography looks like it’s been lifted from U.S. indie cinema, as Alejandra wanders along train tracks or looks back at the city from a wasteland on the outskirts. Symbolism is likewise scarcely groundbreaking, with fish in a bowl signifying Alejandra’s life.

Apart from its literal meaning, the title is a reference to a Chilean expression meaning to leave without paying.

Dead Dog

Chile

Production

A Proud Eye Media, Epicentre Films production. (International sales: Proud Eye, Santiago.) Executive producers, Marco Roldan, Camilo Becerra. Co-producers, Daniel Chabannes de Sars, Corentin Dong-Jun Senechal. Directed by Camilo Becerra. Screenplay, Sofia Gomez, Becerra.

Crew

Camera (color), Marco Roldan; editors, Becerra, Roldan, Gomez; music, Hernan Cheyre; art director, Rocio Monasterio; sound, Franco Sanguinetti. Reviewed online, Madrid, April 13, 2011. (In Buenos Aires Film Festival -- Panorama.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Rocio Monasterio, Rafael Avila, Daniel Antivilo, Cristian Parker, Sofia Gomez, Christopher Galmes.
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