Stray (2021)

Stray (2021)

A tender dog's eye view of everyday life and social inequality in Istanbul

7.6

Movie

Turkey, United States of America
Mandarin, Turkish
Documentary
2021
ELIZABETH LO, FEMALE DIRECTOR
72 min

TLDR

Guess you could say life among street dogs in Turkey is... ruff.

What it's about

A stray dog called Zeytin wanders the city of Istanbul, observing humans' daily lives.

The take

Beautifully directed and blessed to be led by the wonderfully gentle and curious dog Zeytin, Stray commits to its unique point of view by reimagining Istanbul as a place made up of cars, torsos, and trash on the street. Such constraints on one's filmmaking might make it seem like director Elizabeth Lo is in the perfect position to manipulate her animal characters in order to get the "story" she wants, but it genuinely never feels that way. If anything, Zeytin is the one who pulls Lo into orbit, and there's a sense that the director is simply recording what the dog is revealing to us about human beings' daily rituals and how they end up creating structure, culture, and (sadly) outcasts from this culture.

What stands out

The most notable thing about Stray is that it isn't actually a nature documentary about the dogs of Istanbul, but a clever way of drawing our attention to the ways we treat even lowly animals with kindness, but less fortunate people with senseless cruelty. Zeytin naturally leads Lo to a group of Syrian refugees, who have essentially been made as helpless as the dogs, who don't have the freedom to sleep or eat wherever they need to. It does feel like a lost opportunity, however, that Lo doesn't provide a more complete picture of the refugees' stories, but the point she makes about their socioeconomic status is still heard loud and clear.

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