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Stray: BFI London Film Festival Movie Review

Stray: BFI London Film Festival Movie Review 

Directed by: Elizabeth Lo
Produced by: Elizabeth Lo, Shane Boris

Check out more BFI London Film Festival coverage here.


The streets of Turkey are known for their population of stray dogs. As a result of public outcry and protests over the governmental handling of these streetwise pups, it is now illegal in Turkey to hold captive or euthanise stray dogs. Stray, the stunning debut from Elizabeth Lo, takes us on a tour of the kingdom ruled over by these dogs.


Stray With Me

Lo navigates the lives of these strays and those whose lives they touch with genuine warmth and tenderness. That is not to say, however, that that this film doesn’t pack a punch of sadness. Oh no. It isn’t a harsh, exploitative sadness, though. Lo handles the tragedy softly and sensitively – just like petting a newborn puppy.

Beautiful cinematography, from the camerawork to the lighting, follow our fluffy voyeurs around the streets of Istanbul. As we go, we compile a scrapbook of the lives of the city’s residents. From snippets of conversations, and inside jokes to small talk and impassioned protest. We are afforded knee-high vignettes of all these tiny moments, no context required. It’s incredibly simple and beautiful.

 

The lives we do become invested in, human-wise, are those of a group of teenage boys. Refugees from Syria, the boys take Zeitan and the rest of her four-legged crew under their wings and into their hearts. The boys have achingly little; living in building yards and on the streets. What they do have, though, they share with their dogs, without question.

This, among all of the gems, is the crowning jewel in Stray’s crown. Humans (the good ones, anyway) will pack bond with anything. There is a part of human nature that allows us, without whys or wherefores, to form attachments to what we feel needs that protection and care. The boys, no matter how destitute and desperate they become, will always spare food, blankets, and love for the dogs.

Don’t Stray Too Far, Now

Lo does well to quietly and pointedly draw the parallels between the way the public treat the dogs and the boys; some with mercy and some with disdain. In fact, it often seems that the strays are treated better. Both groups are helpless victims of circumstance, doing anything they can to survive. This doesn’t matter, it seems. As outsiders looking in, deliberately othered, we see this pointed lens put over human nature – for better and certainly for worse.

Philosophical intertitles, largely from Diogenes, break up the film, spelling out to us what we all know deep down to be true: we really don’t deserve dogs. Sometimes, though, we do out best to.

 

It’s a Dog’s Life

While watching Stray, it’s hard to believe that this is a debut from Lo. A confident and tender feature, Stray is one to watch, not just for animal lovers, but for anyone who wants another view of humanity…all on four legs.


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