Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 12 minutes, Director – Elizabeth Lo
Looking at the world from a dog’s-eye-view as Zeytin roams the streets of Istanbul, where stray dogs are allowed to live freely.
There’s an innocent, joyous grin that spreads widely across the face as dogs pounce, play, sniff and go freely about their days in Stray. It’s the type of content that makes up short, amusing videos on social media that you sometimes can’t help but watch because of the dog-related content. Yet, there’s much more than just these base moments of delight in Elizabeth Lo’s film. As she follows proud and playful dog Zeytin the camera is kept at the height of a dog’s head, as the world is naturally explored and people and animals are seen going about their days. Turkey is one of the few countries in the world where stray dogs are allowed to roam freely without risk of being taken in by kennels or authorities, or being euthanised. It’s almost made to seem as if humans and dogs, mostly, peacefully co-exist on an equal level with the occasional interaction.
While there are, of course, the humans that want to give Zeytin and co – including Nazar and Kartal – fuss there are also those that almost mentally depend on them. We spend time with a group of Syrian refugees who find mental calming and relief in the company of the canines. If they had the funds – and, as told by one person, didn’t sniff glue from plastic bags – they would likely try to take them in as their own. They’re a source of comfort and distraction. They share qualities of residing in Istanbul, and having their own lives apart from the busy city streets. This relationship, one of a handful explored over the short course of the film, goes to some shocking and surprising places as Lo explores just how far some people will go for this bond.
Throughout philosophical quotes appear across the screen looking into the connection of humans and their apparent best friends. How we’re apparently not so unalike, and perhaps need each other; or at least we need them. All forms of dogs are integrated into Turkish society, going about their days and getting on with their various business (whatever your mind came up with, it’s very likely correct – yes, even in the middle of a crowded street). They walk amongst humans and appear to behave like them, and yet we’re reminded throughout; thanks to the interactions that they have with each other and other species, that these are dogs – the occasional moments of butt-sniffing certainly remind us of this.
Stray tells its story simply and effectively, constructed so as to gradually travel across its course with the viewer alongside Lo and her canine subjects. Within this it manages to pack in quite a lot of detail, never forced so as to disconnect the audience. We see the world from a dog’s perspective, marvel at their play and interactions with humanity, yet find ourselves further engaged and interested by the connections that humans form with them. For the most part this is a fairly innocent film, and that helps with a number of the themes and ideas that are brought up and naturally occur over the course of the run-time. And even those more serious points – this film does after all have an 18 rating from the BBFC for, as their description says, “drug misuse” – are dealt with well and yet in a manner that doesn’t distract from the overall style and feeling of the film. Definitely one for dog-lovers, there’s plenty there for others as the film gently travels along its course of looking at centuries old bonds between dogs and humans.
Playfully filled with plenty of delightful “aww” moments Stray isn’t without its seriousness, in an interesting and effective layer of human-canine relationships.