Stray (2020)

This beautifully-shot documentary is a visual tone poem, as filmmaker Elizabeth Lo tenderly captures several street dogs in Turkey, almost entirely from the ‘dog’s eye’ view.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,174

Dir. Elizabeth Lo
2020 | USA/Turkey | Documentary | 72 mins | 1.85:1 | Turkish
NC16 (passed clean) for some drug use and coarse language

Plot: The world of Zeytin, a stray dog living life on the streets of Istanbul.
Awards: –
International Sales: Dogwoof

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Light – Dogs, Society
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: The Projector
Spoilers: No

Running at only 72 minutes, some viewers, especially dog lovers, will find Stray too short.  But it is the right length and the director, Elizabeth Lo, has made it as tight as possible while allowing her film to breathe. 

Any longer and one might feel there could be diminishing returns—after all, this is a modest documentary that follows several street dogs as they lead their lives, mingling with humans and other dogs while her camera hovers around them. 

These ‘stories’ are endless, perhaps repetitive, but the fun lies in Lo’s direction, where she envisions her work as a visual tone poem, capturing with tenderness—and from the ‘dog’s eye’ view—how dogs might see and sense the world around them. 

Her camera is often fluid, with the use of selective focus and a good number of close-ups to elicit an intimate kinship with these creatures. 

Lo also plays with a selective sound mix, highlighting in certain parts the voices of humans as they converse about everything from family, politics and gender.  The dogs seem to be eavesdropping, but do they really care about the trivial matters of Man? 

Although Stray ultimately doesn’t go deep as a commentary on our society, or for that matter, dogs, I think the idea is to feel the pleasures and anxieties of living. 

We are in the heart of Turkey, where policies have outlawed the killing of strays that populate the cities.  As dogs survive day-to-day, humans similarly do so, be it locals pushing carts of food to sell, or refugees living in the streets. 

Everyone, Man and beast, has to be street-smart in this unforgiving, beautiful world. 

Grade: B


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