A film that takes the camera into the streets, albeit with a new aim.



That familiar phrase "It's a dog's life`' is usually used metaphorically but this unusual documentary by Elizabeth Lo treats it literally. Filming in Istanbul and in other parts of Turkey between 2017 and 2019 Lo, who is her own photographer, set out to look at life from the viewpoint of ownerless dogs roaming the streets. A written statement at the start indicates that in Turkey today there is a far more considerate view of dogs than there was in former times and that it has been made unlawful to euthanise dogs who roam or to hold such animals captive. Late on in the film a quote from Orhan Pamuk nevertheless seems to suggest that there is a campaign afoot to drive dogs from the streets, but what we see in Stray reveals just how prevalent these wild dogs are. And that is so despite the film focusing principally on three dogs: Zeytin, Nazar and a puppy named Kartal.


If the subject of Lo's film is offbeat, so is the treatment. There is no commentary and the dogs themselves are made central: they are often featured in close-up shots, the camera follows them about and in effect we are invited to see things from a dog's perspective. Even passing comments (such as those of a couple in dispute as they sit at an outside table) are heard over a shot of a dog or else follow on from such an image as though the animal can hear and understand their conversation. It's a device that suggests an element of contrivance but sounds including music are used to add atmosphere and Istanbul provides a striking background.


Following the three central dogs around does make for an episodic work without any great sense of shape. Lo seeks to compensate for that by incorporating a thread that develops through the film as we witness the lives of three youths who are Syrian refugees and themselves homeless (early on dogs including Zeytin follow them and later on they contrive to get a puppy to look after). However, any comparisons between how these youths are treated and how the dogs are treated are not built up. This is so even though written quotes from the ancient philosopher Diogenes are inserted at intervals encouraging the notion that humans have much to learn from dogs. Such touches seem a bit pretentious, but for many - and especially for dog lovers - spending time with these animals as they encounter both sympathetic and unhelpful citizens will be rewarding in itself. Perhaps wisely Lo limits her film's running time to 72 minutes so that it does not seem overextended while at the same time it will be long enough to cause many viewers to grow strongly attached to Zeytin in particular. On that level Stray is a success, but it achieves less than an upcoming documentary entitled Gunta which surprisingly creates an even stronger rapport between the audience and a family of pigs - but that is a view which dog lovers might want to challenge.




Featuring  Zeytin, Nazar, Kartal, Little Ali, Malil Ali, Basan Kenan.


Dir Elizabeth Lo, Pro Elizabeth Lo and Shane Boris, Ph Elizabeth Lo, Ed Elizabeth Lo, Music Ali Heinwein.


This Was Argos/Intuitive Pictures/Perferi Film/Elizabeth Lo-Dogwoof.
72 mins. Canada/Turkey. 2020. Rel: 26 March 2021. Available on Curzon home Cinema and BFI Player. Cert. 18.