Film Review: ‘Dog Lady’

Dog Lady Review

A multi-pawed one-hander notable for its understatement and sterling lead turn by co-helmer Veronica Llinas.

A woman lives on the fringes of society with a pack of hounds in Laura Citarella and Veronica Llinas’ solid “Dog Lady,” an observational arthouse study from the collective El Pampero Cine (“Extraordinary Stories”). Chronicling four seasons (though shot over two years) in the largely non-verbal life of this lady of the fields, the pic is a multi-pawed one-hander notable for its understatement and a sterling lead turn by co-helmer Llinas (“Mount Bayo”). Fests will take “Dog” for a romp along international paths.

The nameless protag lives in a tumbledown, open-sided shed in the fields around the undeveloped outskirts of Buenos Aires, within walking distance of human habitation. With her 10 dogs, she forages, hunts with a slingshot, and picks fruit from nearby trees. When needed, she goes to a nearby water spigot, but prefers to avoid the unpleasant human contact (name-calling teens) she encounters there.

As autumnal temperatures arrive, she reinforces her shack with detritus and walks to town for a checkup, though she ignores the doctor’s insistence on further tests and tosses away the prescription. Taking advantage of being in the city, she visits a friend, watches some TV and heads home. Other people talk, but we never hear her speak — is this a profound statement on society’s marginalized voiceless, or an arty cinema affectation? Maybe a bit of both.

Citarella and Llinas use a hyperrealist docu-style approach, chronicling without prying, yet their method has the unintended consequence of leading audiences to ask such questions as: “Where does she get food for the dogs?,” “Where does she bathe?” and “Is this the kind of woman who’d have shaved armpits?” As winter sets in, things get rougher outdoors, but spring will come and with it, freshness and uncertain optimism.

With such a slight story, everything rests on two key elements: pacing and performance. Fortunately, the helmers have them both nailed. As sensitive to the rhythms of the seasons as the tempi of the woman’s day, they add just enough changes to keep things interesting (closeups of the dogs also don’t hurt), sensitively leading to a crowded crescendo at the end that movingly shifts to an emotionally satisfying long shot. Anchoring it all is Llinas’ exceptionally appealing turn, her eyes in particular wellsprings of expressivity. This is a woman of determination, one who views the world with more wonder than distrust, yet feels most comfortable within herself and the company of her pooches (given the intimate rapport between the actress and her four-footed friends, it’s not surprising to learn the dogs really belong to Llinas).

Visuals by Soledad Rodriguez, who also shot “The Fire,” indulge in the expected handheld jiggles, but shine when gauging the woman in her environment, moving through the different worlds (fields vs. city) like a determined naif. Percussion, followed by electric guitar, is oddly inserted and feels gratuitous.

Film Review: 'Dog Lady'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2015. (Also in New Directors/New Films.) Running time: 97 MIN. (Original title: “La mujer de los perros”)

Production

(Argentina) An El Pampero Cine production. (International sales: Pampero, Buenos Aires.) Produced by Laura Citarella, Mariano Llinas.

Crew

Directed by Laura Citarella, Veronica Llinas. Screenplay, Veronica Llinas, Mariano Llinas. Camera (color, HD), Soledad Rodriguez; editor, Ignacio Masllorens; music, Juana Molina; production designers, Laura Caligiuri, Flora Caligiuri; costume designer, Carolina Sosa Loyola; sound, Marcos Canosa, Rodrigo Sanchez Marino.

With

Veronica Llinas, Juliana Muras, German de Silva, Juana Zalazar.

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  1. TONY MARTIN says:

    Bet she was a pretty lady a few years back,

  2. It sounds entrancing. I wish we saw more films like this produced and promote, in the US but it just doesn’t happen.

  3. sofia says:

    I’m from Argentina and Veronica Ilinas is one of the greatest actress of our time. Too bad that we have to find out about her work and about great movies that we produce through an US publication. Local media wont pay enough attention to what we produce as a country in terms of films and music. So, thanks Variety!

    • cdf says:

      I agree, it is too bad that Argentina doesn’t make more of a fuss over one of their best imports :)

    • cdf says:

      I lived in Buenos Aires for 7 years and I have never seen a place where everyone loves dogs. If they don’t have one, they will pet and love on the ones they meet in the park. We had a dog and he couldn’t walk a block without being kissed and petted. I love the Argentines anyway but that makes you love them more !

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