Shorts are challenging to review sometimes. Often, they are mere snapshots of something much grander and generally will play like just that. When most have a runtime shorter than a television episode, it’s hard to know what to grab onto and explore.
Therefore, so many of them are blunt in their approach; they have a clear purpose to strive towards. Grégory Montel’s directorial debut Barking Dogs (Les Chiens Aboient) is beautifully shot and performed but has nothing to explore and no purpose.
Hicham (Samir Senhdji) and Juliana (Julianna Vogt) are our Romeo and Juliette for the brief 16-minute runtime, and both make for charming love-struck teens. He’s an immigrant, and she’s a gypsy with a family not fond of foreigners, which is why Juliana has never invited Hicham to meet them, he just doesn’t know that.
So, ignorantly brave, Hicham follows Juliana home one day and finds her and her family down to dinner for her older brother Willy’s birthday. What follows is intense shouting of slurs and an unpredictable argument with an upset neighbour. There’s enough action here to make for a short film, but none of it has any substance, and since it ends with almost the ultimate cliché, the praise I have for the narrative is non-existent.
What I did like was the cinematography. Intimate and eye-catching it’s Barking Dog’s most significant achievement. David Kremer uses his lens to capture everything of substance that the film has to offer, which is the world, specifically the gypsy lives of Juliana and her family.
Their lifestyle is intriguing, and their tightknit family is wholesome; had Barking Dogs been more focused on culture it could have been something special. What we get instead is the exploration of an event that takes place within an intriguing context, and it’s not nearly as impressive as it should have been.
The performances are strong from the young cast. They do their best with the material given to them and do manage to create an impressive screaming match at the end of the film. Perspective is everything when it comes to understanding Hicham and Juliana, as within their own lives things are going wrong that they each see differently.
Hicham doesn’t see why Juliana won’t invite him to meet her family and Juliana doesn’t understand her family’s prejudices. And Senhdji and Vogt both manage to get this across to great effect and firm themselves as talented performers acting in an unfortunately empty endeavour.
Barking Dogs doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, and in all the confusion, it amounts to nothing. Had there been more depth or a more definite focus, the most substantial pieces of the film could have shined all the brighter and made for something enjoyable. Alas, it lacks in too many vital areas and can only be considered an average first effort and nothing more.
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