A wry, perceptive debut from writer-director Alvaro Garcia-Capelo whose virtues outweigh its first-timer defects, “Dog Days” weaves together half-a-dozen stories to paint a social mini-portrait of modern Spain. Low-key pic makes its points about racism, capitalism, the brick wall of Spanish bureaucracy and the influence of unethical news media with much humor, only rarely slipping into preachiness. Though pic has more reach than grasp, it still signals Garcia-Capelo as one to watch. Domestic impact was low on its August release, but pic’s range of concerns and sheer human appeal could merit fest attention.
Oscar (Sergio Calleja) works in an ad agency. His friend, lawyer Isabel (Elvira Minguez), is refused entry by a psychopathic doorman to a friend’s apartment, having agreed to water her plants. Ignacio (Aitor Merino), who works on a construction site owned by his father, becomes involved in a plot to rob his parents. Journalist Estrella (Nathalie Sesena), against the wishes of her boss, wants to film a story about squatters, and throws out her wannabe scriptwriter b.f., depressive Andres (Anton Reixa). And Moroccan immigrant cab driver Hassan (Farid Fatmi) runs over aging racist Isidro (Andres Resino), but later becomes friends with Isidro’s wife and forces him to reassess his attitudes.
From these bare beginnings, each situation modulates nicely into crisis, with the heat of Madrid’s August dog days making the characters behave in extreme, unusual and often hilariously comic ways. Dramatically, things rarely flag and, apart from the one centered on Ignacio, the stories are as interesting as one another. Only in the final reel do matters start to feel forced as the script tries awkwardly to pull everything together.
Generally naturalistic perfs are fine, with new discovery Fatmi reprising his role from Chus Gutierrez’s “Poniente” as the victim of racist abuse who is more puzzled than angry. But it is Reixa who stands out as the large, balding and suicidal Andres (“I don’t want to be happy, I want to make films”) who’s slowly being destroyed by his inner demons: for much of pic he is alone on screen, but is always credible and gripping.
Dialogue is excellent, whether recording trivia of the domestic everyday or mounting tension of an argument: a painful exchange between Isabel and the doorman about a house key she’s lost feels improvised, and works brilliantly. Pic’s comedy is always rooted in sharp observation, whether visual or linguistic.
For the record, stuntman Alvaro Burgos died during shooting, and pic is dedicated to him.