A journalist grieving over the death of his family retreats to Argentina’s Parana river delta and finds a reason to go on living in Paulo Pecora’s impressive, impressionist feature debut, “A Dog’s Dream.” Shifting tenses, perspectives and even altering the sense of the central (nameless) author’s identity, Pecora pulls off a difficult gambit, resulting in a beautiful film that will suggest for many literate viewers the feeling and tone of a Faulkner short story. Distinguished project should be plucked by high-toned fests looking for fresh Argentine helmers, with arthouse distribs nibbling.
Early passages convey a dream state experienced by a lonely writer (Guillermo Angelelli), who wakes in bed from a stream of images linking the burning of papers, a dog in the woods and a wide, flowing river. With extremely sparse dialogue and a reliance on images to narrate, Pecora’s saga slips back and forth from a present tense, in which the writer is typing his tale of his delta experience, to the story itself.
Preparing to burn down the bungalow he’s living in, the writer is interrupted by a boy (Nestor Noriega), hiding inside and curiously riffling through the writer’s papers. The boy scampers away, dropping a flip-book showing a dog and setting in motion a chain of small set-pieces and close encounters between the writer and boy, until they eventually come together in the aftermath of the death of an old man (Aldo Niebuhr), who has lived with the boy.
The writer collects insects, photographs nature and tends to his boat for short journeys. But the boy, a similarly inquisitive black dog, and the dead old man interrupt his isolation, demanding he help take care of the boy.
The writer is seen in the present toiling away in a small Buenos Aires flat, his imagination drifting back to the delta, or re-living episodes while asleep. However, the story itself (hinging on the idea that a dog is the central character, eventually realizing he’s a man) is narrated by the boy, complicating the point-of-view and who is actually telling the story and when. (At one point, the boy is seen reading the text that in other scenes is being written.)
The one break from the pattern is a sequence in bleached color of the writer at work at a Buenos Aires newspaper, reacting to the photo of a car crash that killed his wife and child (Monica Lairana, Marcos Sanchez). Section is part of the film’s overall design of memory fragments, but may be a bit too elliptical to sink in for many viewers, thus blurring the crucial turning point in the writer’s life.
Still, the stream-of-consciousness that dictates the flow and texture of “A Dog’s Dream” is moving and effective, all the more so for being sustained past 90 minutes’ playing time. While viewers demanding a more linear chronology may get fidgety at the interplay between past and present, the film’s structure is fully conceived from beginning to end, capped by an elegantly staged sequence in which the writer returns to the delta and the source of his story.
Pic offers an interesting contrast to Lisandro Alonso’s “Los muertos,” a major Argentine film lensed in the same region, but which moves in a straight chronological line toward a much darker conclusion. Literary associations naturally abound, depending on one’s reading: Faulkner’s fiction for non-Argentine viewers; Haroldo Conti’s (“Sudeste”) novels, among others, for local auds.
Angelelli’s near-wordless perf is something to see, as he builds a character undergoing stages of grief and inner conflict as if in a silent film. Huge contributions from Martin Frias (evocative and not merely picturesque Super 16mm cinematography), Pedro Razzari and Pecora (editing), Marcelo Ezquiaga (spare cello and guitar music) and German Chiodi (atmospheric sound) round out a superb production package.