'Los Reyes': Film Review | IDFA 2018

Los Reyes Still 1 -International Documentary Festival Amsterdam Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
A doggone low-key crowdpleaser.

The latest collaboration between Chilean directors Ivan Osnovikoff and Bettina Perut won the runner-up prize when premiering at the Dutch documentary giant.

It's a case of four wheels good, four legs even better in Los Reyes, Chilean duo Ivan Osnovikoff and Bettina Perut's appealing study of stray dogs and skateboarders sharing a downtown Santiago park. Built four-square around the considerable screen presence of inseparable best-pal canine co-leads Chola and Football, the German co-production is low on incidents but high on atmosphere and unassuming charm.

Having its world premiere in the main competition at Amsterdam's IDFA, the pair's eighth directorial collaboration took the runner-up special jury award and ranked high among the most viewed titles in the industry videotheque, the latter a reliable harbinger of a busy festival career. Art house play in receptive territories is also potentially in the cards, though bookers and patrons should be made aware that the measured style of Los Reyes — no music, no voiceover, no explanatory title-cards — veers toward the austere.

It's to Osnovikoff and Perut's credit, however, that the directors (whose previous outing, salt-flats chronicle Surire [2015] also contained a significant canine contingent) don't attempt to anthropomorphize their protagonists nor play the tempting "cuteness" card. A range of camera positions, from wide landscape shots to ultra-intimate close-ups, instead allows us to appreciate the two hounds in their adopted setting of the Parque de los Reyes ("Park of the Kings"), a long strip of land along the Mapocho river near the center of the capital.

Interactions with the skaters are surprisingly few and far between: Chola and Football (names only revealed in the end credits) get most barkingly animated when non-strays and their owners have the temerity to invade their scruffy turf. Otherwise they seem to enjoy a placid, sedentary kind of existence in all weather. At the half-hour point, a set of kennels is installed, shelter that comes in handy during the rainy season when its occupants stare mournfully out at the downpour.

The bond of comradeship between Chola and Football is palpable: Football tends to look on tolerantly, usually with some kind of bottle or toy between his large jaws, while the much friskier and sleeker Chola amuses herself by playing with a tennis ball. Her favorite and most delightful pastime involves balancing the ball on the edge of the skate-park wall, releasing it down the slope and chasing after it, a kind of "fetch solitaire."

The animals' evident affection for each other doesn't exclude other encounters: Despite his advanced years, Football is shown enjoying a carnal fling with a passing dog at one point. His relationship with Chola is seemingly more platonic. In any case, their closeness renders the final 10 minutes a moving climax (there's one truly heart-rending sequence of lonely howling.)

The audience has been quietly primed for this sad denouement: Pablo Valdes' camera near-microscopically examines the tiniest signs of aging Football, visibly the older of the two, showing his blunted teeth, worn-down paws, and the pesky flies that buzz around and feast upon his tattered ears. For anyone who has owned or cared for dogs, such sections of Los Reyes may prove tough going.

The directors' intense engagement with the irresistible pooches contrasts radically with their treatment of the skaters: teenage boys who are frequently heard discussing drugs and girlfriends (at occasionally tedious length), and shown skating and hanging out from a distance, but whose faces remain off-camera. Los Reyes was originally pitched as "the story of three low-income teenage skateboarders that embody the challenge of becoming adults in a segregated and classist current day Chile," only for the shooting and editing to take different, more original and rewarding paths. 

Production companies: Perut + Osnovikoff Ltda
Directors / Screenwriters / Editors: Ivan Osnovikoff, Bettina Perut
Producers: Maite Alberdi, Ivan Osnovikoff, Bettina Perut
Executive producer: Dirk Manthey
Cinematographer: Pablo Valdes
Venue: International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (Feature-length Competition)
Sales: CAT&Docs, Paris
In Spanish
No Rating, 77 minutes