The enigma, at the beginning, is that the dog makes no noise. Unless you count the tinkling of his bone-shaped name-tag as he snuffles doggishly around the yard. Neighbors come by, politely, to complain about his whimpering, and his owner acknowledges the problem apologetically, but if he’s noisy, it happens offscreen. It’s that way with a lot of the inferred noise in Argentinian director Ana Katz’s sixth, shortest and strangest film, “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet,” a tiny, monochrome miracle of a movie that gives you years of life and change and mystery in 73 calm minutes.
The approach is so unassuming it takes a moment to appreciate the boldness. Shot over the course of several years, as attested to by its roster of five cinematographers who somehow deliver a consistently lovely aesthetic, the film covers a span of time even longer. It presents details so small they belong under a microscope, and events so large they belong in science fiction; that these chopped fragments can build to an experience so smooth and significant is only because of Katz’s radical re-centering of the drama, away from what happens and onto the life it happens to.
That life is Sebastian’s, also known as Seba, an illustrator in his 30s, who is the owner of the quietly unquiet dog, and who is played by Katz’s brother, Daniel. Who knows if it’s the sibling bond that enables Katz to observe Seba with such tenderness, or if it’s simply the inherent gentleness of a character who is not only no one’s first idea of a hero, he’s not even a classic protagonist. Seba is a listener and a watcher and a looker-after; it’s slightly revolutionary to put the receiver where the loudspeaker usually is.
Seba’s interactions, through what could be termed a mid-life coming-of-age, are peppered with precisely observed gestures of awkward humanity. The neighbor who comes to complain about the dog does so in the rain. Playing over Seba’s attentive, concerned face, there’s also the absurdly relatable dilemma of whether to stand under the man’s umbrella, slightly too close to him, or to step back and get dripped on, possibly poked in the eye.
Because he can’t leave the dog home alone any more, Seba has started bringing him to work. In cordial but firm HR-speak, his boss tells him that the dog goes or his job goes, and so next Seba, who is often shown caring for the things that need care — dogs, potted plants, hedges, children, the elderly, the ill — is housesitting a farm, when a bad thing happens. It’s shown to us in Seba’s simple ink-wash illustrations, a flourish that could be twee but here feels just right. Of course Seba would draw, as he will a couple of times again, when events are too big to be photo-real.
He has a vagabondish wilderness period, and a variety of jobs, then one day lends a hand on the street which turns into a stint with a vegetable-growing collective. He sees a woman (Julieta Zylberberg) dancing almost as awkwardly as he is at his mother’s wedding, and across one cut, they’ve been together long enough that she is heavily pregnant. And then a meteor hits, which gives Katz’s film a thrill of uncanny prescience, as it renders the air poisonous — but only from 4 feet off the ground, so you can either crawl or wear a glass bubble helmet. Those, in one of many clever details that sting with socio-economic insight (Seba also experiences a political awakening as part of the produce collective), are expensive enough to cause a rift between him and his partner.
We’ve all experienced time weirdly during our real-life global disaster: days that vanish like minutes, weeks that feel like years. “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet” is one of the first films since the beginning of It All to not only reflect this wheezing-concertina effect, but also to imagine beyond the disastrous moment. The doctor might pessimistically tell the new parents that for their baby, this will just be the way the world is. But the next light leap forward in time takes us beyond the emergency to a time when, if it’s not like it never happened, it is at least not happening still.
There is vast ground covered in this minute film. The rhythms of Andrés Tambornino’s editing are a paradox, apparently quickening, but touching down less often as weeks, then months, then years are swallowed in a single cut. It makes Katz’s movie a tiny triumph of subversion, against the wastefulness and overemphasis of conventional storytelling, when we have the ability to extrapolate a universe from the way a man makes moussaka for his mum. Seba waters a plant. He watches the sea. And it reminds us, we always need less than we think.