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LFF 2020 Review: Stray – “Leaves you yearning for more”

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Stray is a documentary from filmmaker Elizabeth Lo, following the journeys of three stray dogs in Istanbul. The film informs us that stray dogs in Turkey are accepted in the city and are monitored by officials but free to roam. Filmed over three years, the dogs themselves act as fairly neutral onlookers of Turkish society. Lounging around cafes or befriending locals, it’s all in a dog’s life though at times tedious.

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Stray struggles for a narrative it can build itself around, the closest it gets to a story is when the dogs hang around with Syrian boys who sleep rough with the dogs. The boys are in their early teens, left in limbo by the system, they spend their days grifting and sniffing glue. Their source of happiness are the dogs they meet. Proving dog is mans best friend no matter the circumstances. Eager for a dog they can keep and raise they search the streets for a pup they can take in.

As this happens the dogs we follow end up in all sorts of situations, however, this is not a kids film like Beethoven or Lady and the Tramp. The dogs have to fend for themselves and although the locals are happy to pet them and share a fire, not all of them are being fed. Neither are all of the dogs playing nice with each other. It a rough life for the dogs even if they don’t have to concern themselves with all the problems they overhear – at one point a dog joins a women’s rights protest, unconcerned with the police watching and just accepts the random petting she receives as the chants echo around her.

Elizabeth Lo is brilliant filming the documentary in a cinematic way. The camera is stationary only to follow the dogs once they enter the frame and out of shot, across parks and urban areas. Elizabeth also tweaks the sound slightly so we overhear conversations ranging from voting for President Erdogan to confronting a neglectful husband. Unbeknownst to the dogs, Turkey is in a tumultuous period. It’s an interesting viewpoint of a country to follow its strays, not just the dogs but the refugee boys too, however, it never gets too involved and leaves you yearning for more.

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