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.
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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.