With childhood memories of movies such as Old Yeller (1957) and Lassie Come Home (1943), it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch Stray. I was not sure if I had the emotional stamina to watch a true-life tale (sorry about the pun) about stray dogs living on the streets of Istanbul. Yet, despite the story focussing on the lives of stray dogs and their interactions with those humans who are also experiencing life as “strays, it proved to be an uplifting experience.
As Producer, Director and Cinematographer, Elizabeth Lo leads us on an unscripted and uncontrived journey into life on the street for three dogs and their street “family”– a group of Syrian refugees. Choosing these dogs and following their activities using radio tracking collars, Lo weaves a magical tapestry of a canines’ unique view of the world around them. The only narration is from the background conversations of human passers-by and Lo offers no conventional anthropomorphic soliloquies. The original score by Ali Helnwein provides haunting sounds of the cello, setting a sometimes-sombre mood.
With Turkey being one of the only countries where it is now illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray dog, we follow the daily routines of Zeytin – fiercely independent; Nazar – nurturing and protective; and Kartal - a shy puppy. Through Lo’s untainted lens, the audience is exposed to a canine view of Turkish society. These dogs roam freely, seemingly unfettered by any fear of them being hunted, captured, or killed. And while the street dogs may certainly face disease, hunger, and mistreatment, it is obvious that society does not treat its human “strays” any better.
The irony of the dogs sauntering past the police barricades set up during an all-female demonstration while the young Syrians are arrested for sleeping on the street is striking. Given also the traditional Islamic view that dogs are impure, it seems incongruous yet touching that these stray dogs are so benignly tolerated, with the final scene featuring Zeytin being particularly poignant.
Dates: comes out 25 November
Duration: 110 minutes
Locations: Cinema Nova or digital on demand here
Bookings made here!