To take my mind off the fact that we were leaving Ajijic and Mexico behind us, I decided to watch a movie on the two-and-a-half-hour flight from Guadalajara to Dallas. I selected Los Perros, a Chilean Spanish-language film with English subtitles. I subsequently learned that it is the second major film directed by Marcela Said, who also wrote this film. It’s a damn good thing it had subtitles; the quality of the audio was atrocious in the plane and the words I heard compared only modestly to the Spanish I know. The film tells the story of a woman in her early forties named Mariana, used to wealth and its attendant luxuries thanks to a wealthy father (who we learn has a checkered past). Mariana is more than a bit arrogant and steeped in privilege she uses as a grating, soft, but effective cudgel when she needs it. She is undergoing fertility treatments (one guesses at the urging of her husband) but isn’t much interested in that, nor in much of anything besides her dog. She refuses to tie the dog up, which results in its forays into a neighbor’s yard on multiple occasions. On the third occasion, the neighbor brings the dog home and threatens to shoot it if he finds it in his yard again.
Mariana has other interests, including running a small arts-related business, horseback riding, and jumping (on horses, that is). The latter develops into an interest in her considerably older instructor, Juan, who had been in the Pinochet-era army, as had Mariana’s father. Juan is under indictment for unspecified crimes connected to his military service. In a rather odd turn, Mariana attempts to learn details of Juan’s history by trying to seduce a police detective; the plan backfires in important ways, but gives her some insights into Juan’s role in the Pinochet government.
Neither Mariana nor Juan are likable personalities; they have fundamental character flaws and behave in unpleasant ways. Yet as a viewer, I think most people will come to feel some empathy for the negativity in their lives and even some sympathy for them. They are, to use a phrase I often use to describe characters about whom I write, “good people who do bad things.” But their goodness is questionable. Yet when things happen to crush their respective fragile spirits, we empathize.
It occurs to me that Pinochet may never have been mentioned in the film. Whether it was or not, I am relatively certain the film deals with the crimes created under his dictatorship.
By the end of the film, one feels dissatisfied with the unresolved, unknown outcome. On the other hand, it was precisely the process of suggesting answers that were not provided that kept me interested and engaged. The title, translated into English as “The Dogs,” is easy to understand as the film progresses. I’d give this film a solid “8.” While the film is a bit slow to develop, I liked it.
As I am wont to do, I decided after returning home (and because the clock changed and gave me an extra hour to do with what I like) to explore a bit about some of the film’s actors. Antonia Zegers played the character of Mariana. Zegers is a well-known television actress and has appeared in numerous stage and film productions. Zegers is 45 years old, I learned from the IMDb website. She separated from her husband in 2014 and, a year later, took up with a Chilean musician nine years her junior.
During my exploration of the actor behind Juan’s character (Alfredo Castro), I found the following comments about the film (Los Perros) in Variety magazine:
“The Dogs” marks Said’s follow-up to “The Summer of Flying Fish,” her debut, a critique of Chile’s bourgeoisie’s disavowal of political realities that was selected for Cannes’ 2013 Directors’ Fortnight, proved one of the new Latin American AMC-Sundance Channel’s first two pick-ups from Latin America, and established Said as one of Latin America’s distaff directors to track.
Castro is 61 years old and is an accomplished actor and, according to IMBd, “theatre director…pedagogue, playwright, and founder of Teatro La Memoria, a theatre company that marks a milestone in the history of contemporary Chilean theatre.” Interestingly, he has a history of collaboration with Pablos Larrain, described by IMDb as “Chile’s greatest movie director” and, perhaps not coincidentally, the estranged husband of Antonia Zegers. Even in Chile the romantic entanglements of actors and directors are headline events, it seems.
During my exploration of the film I watched and the people involved in its production, I came across the following Chilean films I’d like to watch one of these days:
- El Verano de los Peces Voladores (The Summer of Flying Fish)
- La Vida de Los Peces (The Life of Fish)
There are more. For some reason, I find more depth in foreign films noir than in American films, even films of the same general genre. Most of the foreign films of that broad type I’ve watched seem to leave more to the imagination than do American films, which seem to “spell it all out for you.” Or maybe I just don’t follow foreign films as well, due to my reliance on subtitles. I’ve been intrigued by various Scandinavian films in the same way, as well as a few French films.