REVIEW: The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet (2021)
Our ability to keep calm and carry on has certainly been tested over the past year and a half, and while Ana Katz’s abstract absurdist Argentinian drama The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet was devised over the course of several years preceding the pandemic, it delivers a depiction of mundanity disrupted and descending into confusion that feels eerily familiar. A fragmented narrative makes for a somewhat disconcerting film as we follow Sebastian, a man drifting through his thirties via a string of jobs when a sudden strange and life-changing event occurs.
First seen pruning plants as his dog, Rita, watches placidly, Sebastian’s neighbours visit him to complain about the constant noise made by her when he goes away. He’s then called into a meeting at work and told not to bring Rita to the office anymore, despite his reasoned pleas; promptly leaving his role behind as a result. From this point onwards we don’t get the arthouse Marley & Me these initial opening scenes may suggest. Rather, Katz proceeds to present Sebastian’s life in a series of vignettes. Brief flashes of interaction, the passing of time only ever so slightly hinted at by his subtly altered haircuts. Beautifully shot in black and white, Katz succeeds in distilling small, modest moments of connection that envelop the viewer. These exchanges are accompanied by Nicolas Villamil’s intriguing score. Lilting and melodic at times, muted and reflective in others, shifting perfectly with the ebbs and flows of human existence.
Played by the director’s brother, Daniel Katz, Sebastian is quiet, gentle and giving. Making dinner for his mother (Lide Uranga) and her friends, caretaking a dying man (Jose Luis Arias) and helping strangers push a broken-down grocery truck. He talks his way into a job with the aforementioned strangers and their carefree manner as they natter good-naturedly while travelling in the back of the van feels infectious and relatable.
While this style of storytelling does give us an initial impression of Sebastian, it also works against the film as a whole. There’s a distinct lack of cohesion inherent to The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet. Moving from interaction to interaction, we receive little to no context. In an enchanting sequence from his mother’s wedding, Sebastian locks eyes with a woman (Julieta Zylberberg) across the dancefloor. This woman becomes the mother of his child, before, in a sudden sci-fi shift, a cosmic event affects the atmosphere rendering the air above four foot unbreathable without a bubble helmet.
What follows is intriguing. It’s immediately clear these helmets are expensive and thus not able to be worn by everyone. In a return to his old workplace and a visit to the hospital for his son’s checkup, this disparity is glaring. The seriousness of such an economic divide juxtaposed with the ridiculous image of people stoop-walking about their days. A conversation where colleagues stood in the midst of this absurdity reassuring each other that the situation will pass and they will adapt to the new normal feels both amusing and poignant. Yet, just as we become curious about this new world and what it means to live in it – it changes. Katz’s manner of somewhat wrong-footing the audience at the very second they start to feel grounded makes for an element of distance felt towards the protagonist and his predicament, that at worst can tip into apathy. Our impression of Sebastian remains surface and speculative as we never remain close enough to any semblance of a plot in order to become fully invested.
At only 78 minutes, the film ends as quickly as it started – the entire feature like a vignette in itself. And thanks to its disjointed nature, one can feel underwhelmed as the credits roll. However, on a second watch, easily done due to the zippy runtime, this lack of clarity can feel less restrictive, instead, an opportunity for interpretation.
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet is a stylish, meditative study. Is it a comment on life washing over us as we endure not just dull conventionality but events that can seem truly unbelievable? Perhaps a statement on how just as we get used to life situations, they change. Katz doesn’t make it easy to know exactly what you’re supposed to have gleaned. But life isn’t easy. It just unfolds and we create meaning and make sense of it the best we can.
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet had its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and will be available exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from 21 May, 2021