And God Created Woman... And The Dog

in 34th Molodist International Film Festival

by Jean-Max Méjean

Dog is man’s best friend. At least that is what’s said without questioning if the opposite is true. However, in cinema, the diverse appearances of the dog as a player in the principal, supporting, or even decorative role, serves as proof (of which the greatest is without doubt the celebrated Rintintin; but also various dogs like Pluto, Goofie and the 101 Dalmatians that are personified in Disney films). The list would be long without forgetting Alexandre le Bienheureux by Yves Robert and Didier by Alain Chabat.

In the official selection of the 34th Kiev Film Festival it was not unusual to find a dog – so well in fact that the two juries, Fipresci and FICC, agreed to give a special post-mortem mention to the dog of Uno, by Aksel Hennie (Norway), a film that was honoured with several prizes (one being the Fipresci Prize). The spectators did not understand the humour of this private joke. Nevertheless the dog is present in all the films entered and it is amusing to note that between the airport and Kiev, crossing through a forest, I thought I could see a pack of roaming dogs, a sort of prolepsis.

I do not want to start another fastidious list, but there are dogs everywhere: Amore, the dog of Frederic the second of Prussia in Meine Name ist Bach by Dominique de Rivaz (Germany); Bettina, the dog of the lady in The Other Side of the Street by Marcos Berstein (Brazil); the dog at the end of Mars by Anna Melikian (Russia); the little dog in the metro (although forbidden) in Control by Nimród Antal (Hungary); the little Bess witness to conjugal infidelities in Neighbourhood Watch, short film by Peter Barlach (Sweden); and without forgetting the fine dog of the old man in the short Russian film, The Two, and the appearance of the wolf, his ancestor, in Marco und der Wolf by Kilian von Keyserlingk (Gemany). It is only in the last short film, The Last Farm by Runar Runarsson (Iceland), that no dog appears, which is proof that his absence is a sure sign of the solitude of the hero. One could hazard to draw conclusions, no doubt hasty, as to the psychological reasons for this filming frenzy of man’s best friend.

Without a doubt the dog is a form of allegory for tenderness and fidelity. He is also very photogenic (this we remark in advertising, and not only for dog food) and he serves to illustrate the mentality or the comportment of a person. He also shows a form of sensibility, or even of sentimentality, which corresponds very well with certain situations. For instance, a dog appears and disappears mysteriously in the scenario of another film in competition, Warsaw by Dariusz Gajewski (Poland), to show the misery and vagabondage of a person abandoned in a big town, like a modern Charlie Chaplin, but without the sense of humour. Therefore, the dog is useful to reinforce – like a musical score – a particularly desolate atmosphere. He is the metaphor of sadness because, since Hegel, we know that in the dog’s eyes all the distress of existence can be read.

However, the official selection favoured a sort of excessive sentimentalism because, a certain machismo helping, men like to note that women suffer and must pay for an unknown fault. If dog is man’s best friend, we could ask if woman is really the future of man, as proclaimed by Louis Aragon. We know, if we read the Bible, that women are born to suffer, in giving birth and also in their private life. La femme qui pleure (1979), by Jacques Doillon, is a film in which we take a certain pleasure from seeing women cry. Their suffering is photogenic, and touches the audience, starting by the male who seems to find an outlet for a sensibility that he is taught to hide. Aftermath by Paprika Steen (Denmark) ends with the shot of a woman in tears; Bloodines by Oleg Harencar (USA – Ukraine – Slovakia) tells the story of a man shared between two women, ending unhappily; Dear Frankie by Shona Auerbach (Great Britain) shows a woman who brings up her fatherless child who is deaf and dumb all by herself.

Nastroyschik by Kira Muratova (Russia), the last feature of the festival, seems to combine the two elements – dogs and suffering women – because it tells the story of a swindle concerning two poor old ladies, living in a comical chekhovian life, one of which is followed by a little dog who seems to feel at the same time all her misery. A sort of pathetic tandem, undoubtedly involuntary; comic but symptomatic of a situation that we must, of course, not take seriously. Because the cinema is nothing but a copy of life, an entertainment which is inspired by l’air du temps and all our neuroses and myths.

Jean-Max Méjean