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PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:50 am 
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Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
Major spoilers:

How to begin to describe the film? Best to get all the puns out of the way first: It is a film that often feels as if it is going barking mad, though it never really goes entirely off the leash. While it occasionally goes through some ruff patches, and can feel a little dogmatic in its wider implied messages, the main characters show a dogged determination to get through all of the trials that they face, rarely 'pawsing' for thought.

Now that I've got that out of my system, this feels like a weird combination of The Incredible Journey, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Spartacus, with a bit of the dogfighting and homelessness scenes from Amores Perros thrown in for good measure. Plus of course Au Hasard Balthazar looms large over this too. It does feel a little contrived in its early stages in that every adult or authority figure is an absolute heartless monster. From the nosy neighbour complaining about no dogs being allowed in the apartment building; the father abandoning the dog (called Hagen) on the side of the road; the angry butcher trying to kill the dogs hanging around his shop with a meat cleaver (surely doing so would be even more unsanitary than just chasing them away!); the dog catchers; the homeless man selling animals to the local gypsy population; the medication preparations and brutalisations to turn our cute hero into a steroidally pumped up, tooth-chiselled fighting dog; and so on.

Hagen's owner, a 12 year old girl, doesn't fare much better either. From her father chucking the dog out of the car, the unsympathetic music teacher, and the confrontation with the brusque and rude lady running the local pound, through to her supposed friends taking her to a nightclub and getting her drunk and arrested in a police raid, there is the sense that splitting up a girl and her dog spirals both of them down into a hellish underworld of witnessing an uncaring society, red in tooth and claw! It is a film in which more people appear to be going to illicit dog fights than bother to turn up to a performance of Tannhäuser (perhaps the opera should allow the audience to bet on the outcome?), though either way the characters are getting brutalised by their trainers in order to toughen them up in preparation for their big performance.

The scenes of canine interaction and rebellion are rather broad (there is even a cute facsimile of a romantic scene as Hagen and his new mongrel friend have a brief (same sex?) kiss!), and the film does turn the dogs into a metaphorical force rather than keeping events more grounded. The shot of the mass of caged dogs squirming and rolling over themselves in order to get through the gap of the opened pen after the first act of dog on human throat violence has been committed is brilliant in suggesting something like the sudden bursting of a dam, as suddenly (as in Spartacus, and I'm sure my imaginary director's cut of this film has a scene in which all of the dogs are surrounding a map planning their next move to out flank the gun-toting police team) the oppressed are seizing their moment.

Despite a few amusing shots of mass panic though as midde class shoppers suddenly have to flee in all directions from the mongrels, I didn't feel much of a generalised apocalyptic threat there. The dogs are (and this is where the film succeeds or fails for audiences, I think) much more focused and we basically see them targeting and dispatching all of the horrible people who treated them callously in the earlier sections of the film, from the dog fighter, the butcher, the dog catcher, to even the nosy neighbour! The film plays a little too much like a horror film in this section as we get a number of suspense scenes in which the oblivious 'victim' wanders around a darkened street, or room, or staircase, only to get suddenly engulfed by a wave of canines!

I did come to like this though, as it builds up that sense that events are closing back in on the girl and her father, with the question of what is going to happen once the girl and her dog get reunited again, and whether the father who sparked off all of the drama is going to end up paying the price as well for trying to separate them. Everything climaxes back at the significant location of the slaughterhouse seen at the beginning of the film (a comment about man's approach to animals as only being worthwhile if they have a specific use?), with a strange combination of improvised flamethrower and classical music performance leading to the submissive, yet inevitably inconclusive end underneath the shadow of the smoke stacks from the factory's furnaces.

It may be a little facile and reductive (and perhaps rather insensitive!) to describe this film as being an enormous allegory for the problems that Hungary, and Europe in a wider sense, is facing right now, but I did find the idea of polite society suddenly having its streets swamped by a horde of the marginalised and brutalised who have escaped the holding pens to pile into the streets to be an amusing one! It also suggests an approach that none of the leaders of Europe have as yet considered: get Angela Merkel on the border of Germany blowing into a giant tuba! That might work to get people running in the opposite direction!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Tue Sep 29, 2015 7:57 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 5:31 pm 
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I liked the film a lot, especially how I could never quite figure out the intended audience-- it's certainly not a kids' film, despite the strong (on paper) resemblance to the Incredible Journey/Milo and Otis et al animal adventures, but it seems like most art house patrons didn't care for it and wrote it off as juvenile, while animal lovers wouldn't be able to sit through the myriad scenes of abuse/violence directed at dogs, and mainstream viewers weren't going to tolerate a Hungarian-language fable with a realistic teenager-father dynamic that refuses to be sympathetic without demonizing either participant. So I guess it had a kinda (sorry about this in advance) underdog quality that made me take an immediate shine to it. I was gonna wait to mention it for our upcoming youth list, but I also give it a solid recommendation for any and all willing to go with it on its own peculiar level


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 6:11 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
Yes, it is sort of The Incredible Journey as if directed by John Milius! I could imagine aghast Disney executives sitting through an initial screening of this film and tentatively suggesting that maybe the detailed instructions on how to brutalise a dog could be toned down, and wondering if the opening scene of a cow's carcass being gutted could perhaps be dropped for fear it would traumatise a potential family audience!


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