For this assignment I was very excited because it coincided so well with the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. I have the privilege of volunteering at the festival this year, and choosing one movie out of over 300 proved to be quite the task. I ended up going with a film entitled La Mujer de los Perros, or Dog Lady in English.
Dog Lady was directed by two Argentinian women named Laura Citarella and Verónica Llinás, and stars the latter. It chronicles one year in the life of a woman who lives outside of society with her ten loyal dogs. It takes place in and around Buenos Aires and is entirely in Spanish. I thought this might be an issue, but as it turns out there’s about 3 full minutes of speaking in the entire 98-minute movie and English subtitles were provided. I had the immense pleasure of being able to hear Laura Citarella make an introduction to the film before we started watching it, as she was in attendance for the festival. My favorite thing she said before the lights went down was “This film was made by five women and ten dogs.” I knew that I had picked the right movie to go to. It is incredibly hard for me to place this movie within genre conventions. It’s almost completely devoid of dialogue and filled with funny, scary, and heart-wrenchingly sad moments alike. The MSPIFF website lists it as a Drama, which I’m not entirely sure if I agree with. However, according to the “Hollywood, it’s a Men’s Men’s World,” Drama is a genre that is very women-friendly when it comes to direction, as “in 2013, half the movies in the American dramatic competition were directed by women.” (Dargis) In any case, upon examination of my experience, I decided that I was witness to a beautiful film about honest, silent connection while among a crowd with whom I had trouble making any connection.
Any representations of social conventions were largely absent in this film, as it is focused on a social outcast who has little to no human interaction. The main character is constructed as a nearly-genderless, loving person who cares only for her dogs. I believe this is to make her more relatable to an entire spectrum of audience members. Her name is never given, and she really could be any gender and the film would not be effected, except that maybe the title would change. As I watched the film I thought that perhaps her sexuality would not be touched on at all either, but I was wrong. In the last fourth of the movie she is shown having brief sex with a cow herder as his cows and her dogs mingle. It is implied that this is an occurrence that happens regularly, as afterwards he talks to her like she is an old friend. I thought this was very interesting because the other two human interactions she engages in are quite detached. I feel that this scene was necessary to show that even though she spends much of her time in the woods with a pack of dogs, she is still a human with human needs and desires. I think this contributes even more to the audience’s ability to identify with her.
In many ways, this film falls under Laura Mulvey’s classification of alternative cinema, as it “changes the basic assumptions of mainstream film.” (Mulvey 834) I was elated to find that the male gaze was completely absent from this film, and I don’t think I could expect much else from an all-female crew. In fact, the main character was portrayed in every way opposite to the gaze. Rather than being “coded for strong visual and erotic impact,” she is not conventionally attractive, nor does she attempt to make herself conventionally attractive (Mulvey 837). She does not wear a bra nor makeup and is usually dressed in what appears to be whatever she could rummage. In addition to this, her body resembles many real-life women I know; she is not skinny nor has perfect breasts or waist-to-hips ratio. This creates a space for identification with the character that so many female characters in movies today lack. This identification paved the way for the audience to feel her deep, unspoken connection to her dogs.
As for creating the connection, this film is unique in that it does so almost completely through visuals. The woman is portrayed as honest and hardworking through depictions of her tireless hunting, gathering, and building to provide for her “pack.” However, she is also shown ignoring the advice and medication from a free clinic physician (who is female) which indicates that she does not completely care about her own self. Her intense bond with her dogs is also shown through her physical affection to them, which is plentiful throughout the movie, as she sleeps in a pile with them, feeds them, and cuddles them lazily under a tree one spring day. Their love of her is also shown through these scenes, but is further accentuated by the constant shots of them following her. They follow her to the watering hole, to the dump, and to her favorite scavenging spots. Shots like these comprise much of the movie and really emphasize the strong connection between her and her animals, which is palpable for the audience who has already identified with the main character. The film’s trailer is a good example of this:
As for this specific audience, I arrived early to this showing to get a good look at exactly who I would be sharing the experience with. The theater filled quickly, and I counted about 40 people before the lights went down. Upon closer inspection, I realized that virtually every person in the theater with me had grey or white hair. I didn’t realize events like this drew the 50+ crowd so strongly, but it appeared that I was by far the youngest one in the room. This was surprising and honestly a little disappointing. I started to feel like the odd one out. This feeling was intensified when the lights went down. In the first several minutes, I heard three different “shushes” from various places around the room. This was pretty annoying to me, as obviously I hadn’t heard whoever was being shushed but I had heard the shush-er and they were quite distracting. When I thought this had subsided, a woman in front of me quite literally yelled “PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY” in an incredibly annoyed tone. I was shocked that she thought this was acceptable behavior. Again, I hadn’t seen the offender but the corrector had disturbed my movie-watching experience. Plus, because it was still the first 10 minutes of the film I assumed the person with the phone was turning it off or putting it on silent. Her words echoed in my brain for the remainder of the nearly wordless film. I thought about telling the woman that she had caused a greater distraction than the one she was attempting to eliminate, but I decided against it. Her actions nearly ruined my experience and greatly intensified my feelings of outsider-ness. As for economics, because I volunteer at the festival, I did not have to pay for my ticket, while most of those around me probably paid the full $13 general public price. This also contributed to my feeling like an odd one out, but not nearly as much as the theater policers had.
Overall, my connection to my fellow moviegoers was close to nonexistent, and if it not, it was poor at best. I believe I was not the only one laughing or shedding tears during certain scenes, but my experience in the first ten minutes of the film prevented me from feeling any sense of comradery in our shared reactions. This was interesting to me because the film we were all watching was about a close unspoken connection. There was a stark contrast in my experience between how I felt in “real life” compared to where the movie took me emotionally, which made for a rather contradictory involvement.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.
Dargis, Manohla. “In Hollywood, It’s a Men’s, Men’s, Men’s World.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.