Let this lady be

To watch Dog Lady at MAMI this week, Argentinian director Laura Citarella says the audience will have to work a little harder

In the Argentinian mute production, Dog Lady (2015), a middle-aged woman lives alone on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, with 10 dogs for company. In a self-imposed exile, the nameless vagabond does what other women in her situation would — forage for food, shower love on her only companions and stay away from name-calling humans. When the weather changes, she
visits a friend in the city, but doesn’t say or do much, except watch television.

A still from Dog Lady, starring Veronica Llinas
A still from Dog Lady, starring Veronica Llinas

Who is she? And why does she do what she does, are the questions the audience is sure to ask, but the film’s director Laura Citarella says, that’s the reason why the film has no ‘voice’. “A voice says a lot about the person. We wanted the person to remain a mystery,” she explains over email from London.

Laura Citarella
Laura Citarella

Screenplay writers and co-directors Citarella and Véronica Llinas (the latter plays the protagonist, too), create a strange world in this documentary-style film that has toured a slew of festivals, including Rotterdam and BFI London, keeping you free to make your own assumptions about the heroine and her drifter lifestyle. “Though we have the structure of a documentary, never did we think of the film as a ‘documentary’ of reality. We were conscious that we were making fiction, a film whose main focus was working with certain aspects of the world that are beyond us,” says Citarella about the plot-free film that’s to screen at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival which kicks off on October 29.

And though the script doesn’t offer us a history of the dog lady, it does paint her as a sympathetic creature, one who sheds light on how society treats those on the fringes. “She decides to live this way. She is a free person and happy enough to live her life on her own terms. We didn't want to say much about the character or her past. If we got stuck with that, we would have been tied to non-cinematographic ideas.”

But Citarella is quick to stress that the lady is not a tramp. “She lives in the present. Not in the past, nor in the future. Just like her dogs. We witness how she manages to invent a life without money, outside of social structures. It is a film about freedom.”

The dogs, though, says Citarella, were instrumental in understanding the idea of the film, because they were the only characters who could play themselves, without the need to act. “The dogs give the story a level of truth that is almost impossible to achieve even if it is in the hands of the greatest ‘on-stage directors’ of the world. As Hemingway would say, ‘that action is not necessarily motion’.”

The end result is open to interpretation. “The film does not intend to reveal something special, but it does try to open the fiction to possibilities. Maybe, the audience has to work a little more, put in a bit of an effort to think.”

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