The Violence from A(nthropology) to Z(oology)

in 17th Ankara – Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by Marilena Iliesiu

Mira Fornay’s film takes place in a small Slovakian community, with well-defined borders: the agricultural suburb, the gypsy quarter and the town with its own symbols, such as the pub, the sports hall and the nouveau-riche homes. This separation does not only imply urban zoning but also a topography of the violence, intolerance and racism that Marek, the main character, embodies and that his dog, Killer, acts out. Killer is the physical manifestation of his owner’s instincts and strength. My Dog Killer (Môj pes Killer) becomes a paradigm for intolerance, specifically racial discrimination, modelled on the type of environment that the protagonist finds himself in (familial, suburban, urban, professional or sporting).

At first, the film acts out the aspects of intolerance and hate within the family: the tormenting of the poor brother by the rich brother, the fury of the abandoned husband and son, resentments towards the runaway wife. From a narrative point of view, Marek’s departure in search of his mother repositions the issue of family within the racial context: family tension transforms into the greater flux of intolerance that flows through pubs, toilets and sports halls.

The 19th-century Romanticism that connected the individual to nature has disappeared: Marek’s vineyard is his dog’s training ground and a strategic point of observation of the provincial town, fossilised in its ancient racial casts. Man and dog emerge from their fortress of safety and attack: Marek hunts down his mother in order to obtain a signature that is needed to divide the family goods, while Killer hunts in dogfights.

The mother is an outcast who escaped from bourgeois comforts based on material gain and moral sentencing and has engaged in a love affair with a gypsy. The entire narrative is decided on two axes: that of maternity and its opposite, that of the fighter; a divide between the tolerance of the weak and the intolerance of the strong. The mother also connects the city, pertaining to commercial prosperity (the workplace) to the gypsy ghetto where, amongst mountains of garbage, Lukas, her youngest son, shifts between the shiv and the fiddle. Marek is not only the son of an outcast but also the brother to an enemy, excluded from the city and exiled to the suburban garbage dump. His mother is the fragile point of equilibrium not just between between Neo-Nazi Marek and wanderer Lukas, but also between two worlds divided by hate, violence, prejudice and nationalist slogans. Marek’s odyssey through town, either in search of or together with his mother, is treated like a road punctuated by a few interior scenes. It is the same technique that Crisi Puiu uses in The Death of Mr Lazarescu (Moartea domnului Lazarescu) and the similarities do not stop there: the name of the two brothers have a biblical resonance and both film titles announce death. Even the protagonist’s physical features, such as his shaved head, blur the boundaries between feminine and masculine, giving him the aura of an asexual angel of death. Just like in the biblical parable of Cain and Abel, Lukas is the victim. After the boy’s death, the film continues — the death of the child is hidden in the everyday, just another event in-between the nationalist party and the happenings in the vineyard. This is testimony to Mira Fornay’s directorial skill. For the hate-filled town, the death of the young gypsy is just a smudge buried deep under hate, racism and intolerance.

The film’s symmetry is given by the beginning and end scenes that show the dogs’ training, a whole nation incapsulated in the daily strengthening of the attack couple of dog and man. The limits of violence are clearly demarcated, from the anthropological to the zoological. Mira Fornay’s world is a dog-eat-dog world which cannot be escaped as long as its guardians are the man and the beast.

Edited by Carmen Gray