Cannes 2016: Câini [Dogs]

I covered Cannes Film Festival this year, and I will be posting my reviews on here daily. My pieces are on a website known as The Upcoming and have been published in something called Swipe magazine.

Bleak, barren, desolate: Bogdan Mirica’s Câini (Dogs) is an unflinching portrayal of an expansive outback rarely glimpsed on the Romanian-Ukranian border. Austere and technically accomplished, the film offers no simple resolutions, evoking a primitive, almost Hobbesian state of nature where pleasantries are discarded in favour of fear and violence. If not quite a display of actors in a war of all against all, the inhabitants of this strange land doggedly pursue personal agendas informed by embedded resentments and deceitful machinations.

Roman (Dragoş Bucur) returns to this place after the death of his gangster grandfather. He has become the rightful inheritor. Wishing for a swift return to the city, Roman aims to sell the vast expanse as quickly as possible, while his girlfriend cannot wait and comes to stay with him. But the men who inhabit the land, led by the loathsome Samir (Vlad Ivanov, who has been omnipresent at Cannes this year), have a smuggling business to protect, a hangover from the quasi-rule of Roman’s grandfather. Meanwhile, old police chief Hogas (Gheorghe Visu) is riddled with lung cancer. His gradually weakening figure is spent exploring a mysteriously discovered foot, observed in the brilliant opening sequence rising to the surface of a deep, acrid swamp. The general unease does not desist among the small community, and a reckoning approaches.

There is a wonderful symmetry to the film’s images: trees, poles and fences frame the characters’ interactions in almost every scene. And much of the film’s dialogue takes place in twos: characters sit side by side, each absorbing one half of the picture. The camera remains fixed, capturing the pauses and nuances found in hushed, resigned conversations. Hogas’s inspection of the mutilated foot, where he slowly, tantalisingly, eases off the sock, is brilliantly depicted. It occurs in real time and face on, with the camera a still, silent onlooker. The general sense of thirst is also palpable – characters don’t sip or drink but guzzle and gulp. Moreover, the bleached, arid colour palette of the contested lands, filled with sickly barks of sickly dogs, felt reminiscent of the horrors of property and ownership found in JM Coetzee’s novel Disgrace. The story unravels slowly, which is no problem in itself, but it means that the tension flags during the exposition of several redundant subplots. The descent into violence is ingenious and shocking, however, and the strangeness of the film lingers on past the credits.

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Published by

Joseph Owen

PhD, Carl Schmitt, Modernism and Sovereignty at University of Southampton

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