Chasing Our Own Tails

By Alonso Aguilar

As her master mindlessly does gardening work, a skinny dog watches. Her fixed gaze, entranced by the clumsy cutting motions of protagonist, Sebastián (Daniel Katz), appears like a look of longing; a muted claim for any form of attention that goes unanswered. Soon it’s established that she usually howls tirelessly whenever he’s absent. Her piercing cries are so prevalent that the upset neighbours see no other option than to confront Sebastián about just how much the whole situation is having an emotional toil on them. The young graphic designer just nods and mumbles submissively; his gaze lost in time and space as if trying to remember some pending chore that gets him quickly out of the uncomfortable encounter. But he has none. Nowhere to go to. Nothing to do.

What in most films would probably amount to little more than a throwaway scene or a gag build-up,  feels oddly substantial in Ana Katz’s El perro que no calla, whose opening works as a kind of microcosm. We see extremely mundane exchanges delivered by a deadpan demeanor and drawn-out to the point of awkwardness. Sebastián, part stoic and nostalgic archetype, part bumbling buffoon, traverses scenes aimlessly like a spectator in his own life; letting external circumstances dictate whatever his next step is. While reading about these elements on paper might bring to mind a particular tradition of quirky coming-of-age indies (amplified by the fact that the film also played at 2021’s Sundance Film Festival), Katz’s approach doesn’t let a minute go by before establishing that this is undoubtedly its own thing.

Katz’s signature

Anyone familiar with the Argentine filmmaker’s oeuvre will notice some pretty significant departures from the get-go. The primary colour palettes and breezy atmospheres that characterised her previous portraits of contemporary female experiences, like Sueño Florianópolis (2018) and Mi amiga del parque (2015), are nowhere to be found. They’ve been replaced by a contrasting digital monochrome and a sneakily oppressive aura of desolation. 

Katz’s signature use of intimate close-ups and enclosed spaces as framing devices are still present, although it has mutated from playfully portraying social tensions and hidden desires towards a more focused rendering of melancholia, beautifully complemented by key sequences of hand-drawn animation done by art director Mariela Rípodas. 

El perro que no calla film still

Before El perro que no calla, the last Ana Katz film with a male protagonist was the Guillermo Francella vehicle, Los Marziano (2011), and there’s an argument to be had about how much that actually influences the former film’s tone. In the latter, the balance between comedy and drama was more in line with the rest of Katz’s filmography, which simply isn’t the case with El perro…, where humour presents itself in darker hues. 

Instead of a particular depiction of modern-day masculinities, the focus in the featureseems to be a more abstracted rendition of contemporary society. We get glimpses of different aspects of Sebastián’s life scattered around the brief 74 minutes running time, but his staying power as a central figure comes to life when his idle trajectory is seen as a whole. Forced to quit his job for a minor inconvenience, he disguises his search for meaning in an apparently neverending stretch of odd jobs that confront him with the shorter end of economic uncertainty. 

Powerful apocalypse

As ellipsis jumps around various stretches of this soul adrift, it also creates a supercut of the many facets of late capitalist existence. Even with its brief moments of solace, lives like Sebastián’s and most of whom he encounters are destined to eternally cohabit with absence, to the point where the relationship with their surroundings is reduced to mere obliviousness. Sebastián even finds himself living in a new beautiful flat with a new beautiful dog, but once his fingers graze the plants in his terrace, his gaze is lost once again; probably pining for that initial moment he wasn’t even really there to enjoy. 

El perro que no calla might be one of the most powerful apocalyptic films in recent memory, just for the fact that the dystopia it showcases doesn’t even need to hyperbolise anything. Being at a loss is so central to the human experience, that a global pandemic (the one that is portrayed in the film actually precedes the one we’re currently living in) is accepted matter-of-factly and people just wait for whenever they can come back to their usual dissatisfactions.

Alonso Aguilar
Written for the Young Film Critics 2021