Review: Slovakia's 2013 Oscar Entry, MY DOG KILLER Tackles Racism With Potent Realism
The latest Slovak and Czech
co-production, My Dog Killer is directed
by young Slovak filmmaker Mira Fornay. The film happened to scoop up several awards on the
international fest circuit (including Rotterdam) this past year, though the reaction on the home front has been rather
lukewarm. The same scenario had occurred already with Fornay´s debut feature, Foxes, which premiered in the International Film Critics' Week Venice IFF 2009.
Nonetheless My Dog Killer has been filling pages in the national newspapers since its premiere at Rotterdam and it winning the Hivos Tiger Award (the film continues to scoop awards all over the globe). It is now Slovakia´s submission for the Foreign Language category at the Academy Awards, as well as at the European Film Awards. Funnily enough, the director seems to possess a recipe appealing to international audiences and juries which has yet tocome through on the domestic front.
The film takes place during one quite ordinary day in the life of Marek, an eighteen year old skinhead, taking care of his father´s vineyard and playing with his little pet, the eponymous Killer. The narrative style is heavily fragmented and elliptical, using episodic form and minor story arcs as well as digressions, so it´s mostly up to viewers to pick up as many story crumbs as possible. The main plot does not exist in a traditional sense as we see the young protagonist on his quest to get some papers signed by his mother who left him because of a gypsy lover. Marek did not only grow up without a mother, he has also grown up fostering a skinhead posture. The racism in this case is not a product of ideology, but of a medley mixed of revenge, shame and dysfunctional family.
The protagonist does not only confront his estranged mother, he is confronted by his little step-brother who is dying to make friends with him. It would be a merry mix-up if a tragedy would not be on the horizon. At the same time, the wanna-be skinhead goes through turbulent encounters with his like-minded bald friends once he is accused of having a gypsy brother, an evident obstacle to permanent membership in this extremist group. However, the racism comes as an auxiliary theme forming a sort of background for the story or rather the framework for the main plot. Similarly to Fliegauf´s naturalistic civil horror Just the Wind, the tension between white public and ethnic minority addresses racism as the country´s political problem, and as a result of a dubious social policy.
My Dog Killer renders the Roma minority in a stereotypical manner hiding the motives of the main character behind personal trauma and thirst for revenge. The director modulates the racism issue or intolerance in general in tiny episodes. One of those being almost a surreal snapshot of a granny dancing to a folk tune under the picture of Jozef Tiso, the president of the first Slovak republic during the reign of the Third Reich and most probably the only catholic priest to be executed for war crimes (the main reason being numerous Jewish transports to Auschwitz). Nowadays, Tiso still persists as a "role model" for right-wing extremist groups.
Nevertheless, the main driving theme is a dysfunctional family as Marek does not get along with his violent father, while the lack of a mother´s hand in his upbringing is apparent. The mother´s unwise choice to flee with a lover disrupts the family and sends it into an irreparable state, furthermore leaving the boy stigmatized for the rest of his life. My Dog Killer stems from upright social realism cinema. The shaky handicam eagerly follows the protagonist in series of close-ups interweaved by painfully long-shots to squeeze the maximum out of non-pro actors, all of it boosting the notorious verité style. The slice of "reality" is also shaped by the close timeframe of the plot, from dawn till dawn, underpinning the protagonist´s indifference.
While the 2012 Hungarian film Just the Wind serves as a suitable benchmark thematically and formalistically along the myriad similarities of Roma life, Benedek Fliegauf's gut-wrenching ambient horror teaches the lesson dramatically by invocation of physical sickness, a direct yet effective way to deliver a clear message. My Dog Killer treats racism by anchoring it locally, thus diagnosing a current social malaise. Although, the film trespasses also into wider context building, namely statements on the "sins´ of fathers" concept while putting a sort of Freudian spin on it. The main story arc cunningly reflects history repeating itself in a devious circle in the scope of one family as well as the whole nation. And this is the reason why the film is tinted in such an allegorical aura. Even despite its social realism, My Dog Killer wields a double-coded structure similar to Greece's Foreign Language Oscar entry, the spartan and grim Greek Boy Eating the Bird´s Food about a starving young man in Athens.