'Dog Lady' ('La mujer de los perros'): Rotterdam Review

Mujer Still - H 2015
Courtesy of International Film Festival Rotterdam

Mujer Still - H 2015

Four legs good; two legs... also good.

Veronica Llinas stars in and co-directs a ruminative character-study from Argentina, world-premiering in competition at the Dutch festival

The mute or electively wordless protagonist has become a cliched feature of global art-cinema, an unfortunate trend which makes the wit and elegance of Argentina's largely dialogue-free Dog Lady (La mujer de los perros) all the more refreshing. This modest but sturdy showcase for veteran actress Veronica Llinas—who co-writes and co-directs with Laura Citarella—intimately chronicles one year in the life of a shack-dwelling middle-aged hermit on Buenos Aires' outer fringes. Bowing and wowing in the main competition at Rotterdam, the likeably low-key picture should enjoy a healthy festival run—even if some viewers may lose patience with the wispiness of its narrative.

No biographical or background details are vouchsafed regarding Llinas' nameless 'Dog Lady', who shares her makeshift residence with a dozen or so stray, devoted canines. Certain hints are nevertheless dropped here and there, but the directors' chief concern is conjuring the specific details of the here and now as summer yields to autumn, winter and spring. Dog Lady makes a couple of trips to more heavily urbanized sections of the capital, including an abortive visit to a hospital clinic where this semi-vagabond wanderer is ludicrously advised to adopt a "less sedentary" lifestyle.

At certain junctures it seems apparent that Dog Lady does converse with the folk she encounters, but either Soledad Rodriguez's cameras are positioned too far away for us to be able to hear what is said, or else the words are smoothly excised courtesy of Ignacio Masllorens' editing. Anyone who has had any dealings with pooches will know the importance of sustained verbal communication, but this is really the only significant detail of the film which requires suspension of disbelief.

Constructed as a series of episodes which occasionally threaten to develop along conventional dramatic lines—but never do so—Citarella and Llinas' skeletal screenplay presents Dog Lady as a kind of phantom happily dislocated from the regular world, much given to soulful communion with her natural environment.

The most obvious manifestation of this is her mutually protective relationship with her canine companions—a dozen of whom are identified in the closing credits—these motley mutts presented in a manner that stays on the right side of the ever-hazardous charming/cutesy divide. The handsome mongrels certainly don't act like "trained" animal performers, instead contributing to the film's air of unhurried, unpretentious verisimilitude.

As mood-piece and character-study Dog Lady's appeal is considerably boosted by Juana Molina's score, her bass-heavy electronic stylings intermittently deployed with judicious, sensitive economy. Despite this being Llinas' first directorial outing, and only Citarella's second (after 2011's Ostende), there's a strong sense of assured control here—encapsulated in a audaciously extended, one-take, long-lens final shot which, like the picture as a whole, drolly transcends hackneyed contemporary trends.

Production company: El Pampero Cine
Cast: Veronia Llinas
Directors / Screenwriters: Laura Citarella, Veronica Llinas
Producers: Laura Citarella, Mariano Llinas
Cinematographer: Soledad Rodriguez
Production designers: Laura Caligiuri, Florencia Caligiuri
Costume designer: Carolina Sosa Loyola
Editor: Ignacio Masllorens
Composer: Juana Molina
Sales: El Pampero Cine, Buenos Aires
No Rating, 98 minutes