My Dog Killer (Moj pes Killer): Rotterdam Review

My Dog Killer Still - H 2013

My Dog Killer Still - H 2013

Slovak skinhead saga lacks bite. 

Adam Mihal stars in Mira Fornay's Slovak-Czech drama, one of three Tiger Award winners at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

While its title may conjure lurid visions of a rampaging four-legged fiend, Slovak-Czech co-production My Dog Killer focuses squarely on the fed-up bipedal inhabitants of dead-end central Europe. Reasonably well-made but never particularly involving or illuminating either in terms of characterization or social analysis, this sophomore feature by writer-director Mira Fornay (2009's Dublin-set Foxes) nevertheless landed one of the three equal top prizes when world-premiering at Rotterdam. The cachet of the Tiger Award for what was Slovakia's first Rotterdam competitor will doubtless lead to further festival play, but theatrical distribution beyond Slovakia, the Czech Republic and their immediate neighbors appears improbable for this glumly topical indictment of rural prejudice.

Marek, aka Marko (Adam Mihal) is a hollow-eyed lad in his late teens whose vampiric pallor and piercingly eerie gray eyes suggest he's staggered in from the set of Warm Bodies. Tight-lipped and inexpressive, he lives with his father (Marian Kuruc) and spends most of his time exercising his bull-terrier Killer -- a tail-waggingly amiable beast who can be quickly goaded into ferocity -- in a corner of the struggling family vineyard.

The plot kicks in when Marek's dad decides to sell part of his property, and so requires the signature of his wife Marika (Irina Bendova) - from whom he's estranged but, this being a staunchly Catholic country, not divorced. Marek thus becomes an unwilling go-between, leaving Killer with his shaven-headed buddies as he setting off on his ancient moped to the nearby village where his mother resides. It turns out that Marika "ran off with a Gipsy" some years before and has a young son, Lukas (Libor Filo), from this new relationship. Anti-Roma sentiment is prevalent in this bucolic area, close to the border with the Czech region of Moravia, and the stigma of having a half-brother of "mixed" ancestry weighs heavy on Marek. This prompts him to drastic action that yields dire consequences.

Setting her action over the course of just over a single day, Fornay evidently seeks to provide a snapshot of social tensions as illustrated through the case of one somewhat unrepresentative family. Grim irony is the preferred MO, as Marek's macho aspirations are soon revealed to be a thin carapace for his immaturity and desire to fit in. But as Marek only really comes "alive" -- relatively speaking -- when he's with his canine chum, the fact that Killer is absent for much of the running-time leaves a vacuum which the human interactions never quite manage to fill. The dog is treated essentially as a plot-contrivance, present solely to take part in a third-act outburst of violence towards which the whole narrative steadily builds. But the specifics of this crucial off-screen incident are handled with an unnecessarily cumbersome awkwardness, and what should be an affectingly tragic finale ends up packing nowhere near the requisite emotional punch.

The actors cope professionally with their underwritten roles, little Filo making the most of his being the only character with much in the way of humor or energy. Technical aspects are unobtrusively professional in a picture which faithfully adheres to the sub-Dardennes style that has long become the default mode for European arthouse cinema, with pointlessly protracted shots and scenes the patience-taxing norm.  

Venue: Rotterdam Film Festival (Competition)
Production company: Mirafox
Director-screenwriter: Mira Fornay
Producer: Juraj Buzalka, Mira Fornay, Victor Schwarcz
Director of photography: Tomas Sysel

Costume designer: Erika Gadus
Editor: Hedvika Hansalova
Sales agent: m-appeal, Berlin
No MPAA rating, 90 minutes