Directed by Bogdan Mirică
February 23, 9:30pm at Film Comment Selects
Twelve years since Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), a spate of dour Romanian films in the latest iteration of realism, and grouped together as a “New Wave,” have made their way to arthouse theaters. Parallel to these films arrives Dogs, directed by newcomer Bogdan Mirică. A moody and stylized work with genre trappings, this debut feature is about inborn violence linked to place. If Radu Jude’s Aferim! (2015) is a black-and-white western set in mid-nineteenth century Romania, Dogs is an arid western set in the nation’s contemporary backwoods.
Roman (Dragoş Bucur) inherits quite a large sum of land from his recently deceased grandfather, a man involved in some sort of illegal trafficking. Roman plans to sell, but his grandfather’s cronies show up, emerging from the fields. Meanwhile, a police officer (Georghe Visu) with terminal cancer investigates a severed foot fished out of a pond. These are the bits and pieces of a narrative that functions little more than as a shape for a film more interested in atmosphere. Mirică has said Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s music influenced his film, as well as Cormac McCarthy’s literature. Indeed, Dogs shares the bleak worldview evoked in the work of those artists, along with the us-versus-them mentality (and imagery) of Deep South westerns like Deliverance (1972) and Southern Comfort (1981).
Deliberately paced, Dogs is a film that drips along. Carefully orchestrated, it is an understated theatrical film consisting of a ceaselessly trawling camera that is forever pushing in. Look at the way the film introduces Roman. The camera crawls toward him as he sits on a bench, framed by a makeshift canopy and waiting for a ride to his grandfather’s house. Or, the way in which the officer inspects a foot on a dinner plate with nothing more than a fork, like a meal he’s savoring.
Mirică’s approach is to fixate on small moments, foregrounding props (a cigarette carton, an apple, a mini cooler, a foot) and the gestures people make. He’s an actor’s director. This is crystal clear in the performance he gets out of Vlad Ivanov, who seems to be in every Romanian film lately. He is like a Romanian Bill Camp, but with meatier roles. In Dogs, he has a creeping menace. When he utters lines under his breath, with just a touch of flippancy for uppity city folk, he becomes the boogeyman of a blood-soaked land where men become beasts.