The word “alienated” might have been invented for the haunted protag of “Dog Flesh,” a brooding, intimate study of one man’s clumsy attempts to find a place for himself in the world. That the man is a former Chilean Intelligence Service employee, responsible for torturing victims under Pinochet, is addressed only fleetingly, much like everything else in a film whose multiple pauses and ellipses add up to a powerful if claustrophobic viewing experience. Debuting helmer Fernando Guzzoni took the New Directors award at the recent San Sebastian fest, and further fest bookings look likely.
With the face and bearing of the battered former pugilist he effectively is — though these days, his fists are used more for self-harm than for anything else — Alejandro (Alejandro Goic, himself a torture victim) spends his days in a state of constant frustration. Chilean society has moved on, and the underlings of the Pinochet regime have been left behind. The taxi on which Alejandro now depends for his livelihood has broken down; he has physical problems that his doctor tells him are in fact psychological; and his ex-wife (Amparo Noguera) and daughter don’t want to know him.
While out walking one sleepless night, Alejandro meets Gabriela (Maria Gracia Omegna), a single mother who talks about her daughter. Alejandro dreams of building a family with her, but after desperately tracking Gabriela down for a second meeting, he learns that she doesn’t in fact have a daughter at all.
The only bulwarks against all this misery are Alejandro’s showers and visits to the swimming pool, during which this restless man can briefly enjoy peace; water flows, drips and splashes throughout, the helmer overly keen to suggest its redemptive, cleansing power. The film’s sluggish rhythms are abandoned for the last 20 minutes, when Alejandro’s search for some escape from himself becomes more urgent.
Most Chilean studies of its Pinochet past are told from the p.o.v. of the victims. “Dog Flesh” reps a brave step in the opposite direction, but stops short of tackling those tricky issues on anything beyond a psychological level. Heading off accusations of sympathizing with the wrong people, Guzzoni is careful to make Alejandro a thoroughly unappealing character, part individual and part symbol, who in a couple of scenes becomes a full-blown psycho.
Goic is given little dialogue, and most of it is inane stuff; he’s as incapable as anyone of articulating what has become of his life. Thesp is thus forced to communicate mostly in silence, with d.p. Barbara Alvarez’s constant, lingering closeups keeping the character’s bitterness and explosive violence at the fore. Lack of music is in line with the pic’s generally stripped-down air. Title refers to Alejandro’s somewhat confused relationship with his pet.