'Los Perros': Film Review | Cannes 2017

Los Perros - Cannes Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A tight, modest tale of moral evasion and rot.

Marcela Said's film about the complicated friendship between a Chilean woman and her riding instructor premiered in the Critics' Week sidebar.

The men are all dogs, all right, but the woman at the center of things is a complex and compelling figure in Los Perros, in which the brutal legacy of the Pinochet era continues to infect modern Chileans on an intergenerational basis. The operative concern of decades-old crimes and transgressions still plaguing a society won’t play urgently with young modern audiences preoccupied with other contemporary problems, but the flawed and vibrant character around which the film spins provides a strong pulse of dramatic energy. International commercial prospects are limited.

After working in documentaries for a decade, writer-director Marcela Said made her dramatic feature debut with The Summer of Flying Fish, which played the Directors Fortnight in Cannes in 2013. This new effort overlaps in its preoccupation with upper-class complicity in the crimes and corruption of the by-gone dictatorship, as well as with environmental issues that also carry class-related baggage.

Despite the aggressive intelligence and quick wit of the 40-ish Mariana (Antonia Zegers), it seems beyond the abilities or inclinations of either her wealthy father or husband to take her seriously; the former infuriates her by wanting to sell their beautiful forested land to a logging company, while the latter seems to regard her as a child who should do as she’s told. And then there’s the unpleasant neighbor who threatens to shoot her dog for trespassing.  

Mariana herself can also be a handful, spouting attitude about everything; conversations among the three of them mostly seem to be contests in aggressiveness and scarcely concealed hostility, “You have a loose screw, like your mother,” her dad disdainfully tells her. So it’s not surprising that she might turn elsewhere for favorable male attention, which she receives in a reserved and very proper way from her riding instructor, Juan (Alfredo Castro), a 60-ish former cavalry officer now accused of long-ago human rights violations.

The core interest of Said’s story rests in how — and how long — this bright lady, who’s no young innocent, can disregard the brutal criminal behavior once indulged in by the elegant, soft-spoken gentleman she so admires; he’s wonderful with horses, teaches her impeccably and has a sense of class that outstrips any other man on the horizon, even as he admits that, “I am not a good man.” How and why should what the colonel may have done in the distant past influence the beautiful friendship (or more) that they might pursue now?

Said assesses all this through the prism of Mariana’s high-combustion personality, which is constantly firing on all cylinders. Alive to the occasion, Zegers, who displays more energy than Julia Louis-Dreyfus on a fast day, power-blasts through a thicket of male condescension and criminality. But even at that, it takes Mariana a long time to see the light, so accustomed has she been to the attitudes — sexist and fascistic — that have all prevailed in her upper-class world for so long.

The director moves things along at a good clip, although the film is stylistically prosaic and it remains unclear why one-time Pinochet collaborators are only now being called up on charges.

Production companies: Cinema Defacto, Jirafa Films
With: Antonia Zegers, Alfredo Castro, Rafael Spregelburd, Alejandro Sieveking, Elvis Fuentes
Director-screenwriter: Marcela Said
Producers: Sophie Erbs, Tom Dercourt, Augusto Matte, Santiago Gallelli, Benjamin Domenech, Joao Matos, Jonas Katzenstein, Maximilian Leo
Director of photography: George Lechaptois
Production designers: Maria Eugenia Hederra, Pascual Mena
Editor: Jean de Certeau
Music: Gregoire Auger
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week)

101 minutes