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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving look at the resiliency of children in crisis
Marziyeh Meshkini's latest film, STRAY DOGS, from 2004, vividly illustrates that her earlier work, THE DAY I BECAME A WOMAN (2001), was no fluke - she is a filmmaker with a unique vision, with the technical abilities to translate that vision to the screen. Great filmmaking runs in the family - Marziyeh is the wife of renowned Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has...
Published on 14 Mar 2007 by Larry L. Looney

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Barbarians all ?
I am afraid that I was extremely disappointed by this film, which more or less depicted all the Afghan people as cruel and evil barbarians, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The gratuitous dog-fighting episode seemed designed to emphasize this.
It was set, according to the box, in the post-Taliban era. Were we supposed to believe that things were worse under...
Published on 9 Dec 2011 by Fleabeetle


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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving look at the resiliency of children in crisis, 14 Mar 2007
By 
Larry L. Looney (Austin, Texas USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Stray Dogs [DVD] (DVD)
Marziyeh Meshkini's latest film, STRAY DOGS, from 2004, vividly illustrates that her earlier work, THE DAY I BECAME A WOMAN (2001), was no fluke - she is a filmmaker with a unique vision, with the technical abilities to translate that vision to the screen. Great filmmaking runs in the family - Marziyeh is the wife of renowned Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has 18 features to his credit, including GABBEH (1996), A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE (1996), SILENCE (1998), and KANDAHAR (2001). Their daughter Samira has followed in the artistic footsteps of her parents, directing THE APPLE (1997), THE BLACKBOARD (1999), and 5 IN THE AFTERNOON (2003). Their son Maysam and daughter Hana have begun their own careers with shorts and documentaries. The Makhmalbaf Film School was established by Mohsen so that Iranian students interested in working with cinema would have the opportunity to learn their craft in their own country - his family members who are working in film, as well as others, have been given a chance that might well have been outside of their grasp if not for his devotion to his art.

STRAY DOGS is filled with memorable images - Marziyeh's eye, spirit, intelligence and skill work together, along with her talented team, to tell this story in such a way as to carve it into the heart and soul of the viewer. The film is set in Afghanistan, after the fall of the Taliban - the two central characters are a sister and brother, Gol-Ghotai and Zahed, respectively. Their ages are never given directly, but I would guess that she's around 7, and her brother perhaps 11. For all practical purposes, the two are war orphans - their parents are alive, but both are in prison and unable to care for the children. Their father is a Taliban mullah who has been imprisoned by the Americans. When he went off to fight in the war, disappearing without a trace for 5 years, the mother assumed he was dead and, unable to properly provide for her children, remarried - their father reappeared and, finding his wife married to another man, charged her with adultery. Her second husband is now dead - she begs the children, who are at first allowed by prison guards to spend the night in their mother's cell, to go to their father and convince him to forgive her, so that she can be set free and take care of them. He continues to refuse, saying that `she can burn in hell'. Talk about kids being caught in the middle of a domestic dispute!

Gol-Ghotai and Zahed have nowhere to live - they do their best to survive on the streets, foraging for anything salvageable that can be eaten, sold or burned for warmth. One day they cross paths with a large group of boys, brandishing torches, chasing a stray dog. `Kill him!' one boy shouts. `It's a Western dog!' The boys trap the dog in what appears to be some sort of deep outdoor kiln - it cowers and barks below as they shout taunts at it, now and then tossing down a torch to torment it. Gol-Ghotai slips into a horizontal shaft leading to the area where the dog is trapped - she grabs it and pulls it to safety just as its pursuers toss down the rest of their torches, creating an inferno intended to kill it. The dog becomes the constant companion of the sister and brother - and fittingly, as the two of them have been living as little more than stray dogs on the streets already.

The children are informed by a formerly friendly guard at the prison that a crackdown by the governor makes it impossible for them to spend the night with their mother any more. Desperate to be with her, aching to reestablish a sense of family, they concoct a scheme to commit a crime and get arrested in order to be placed in prison with her. The idea comes, fittingly enough, from the two of them viewing Vittorio De Sica's classic film BICYCLE THIEVES - an honest and respectful nod by Marziyeh to the great Italian director - and the scene in which Zaheb steals a bicycle and gets arrested is a beautifully realized visual echo of the scene in De Sica's 1948 film where the father steals a bicycle and is surrounded by a mob of citizens and taken into custody by the police.

In an oft-repeated quote, W. C. Fields once said `Never work with animals or children' - Marziyeh Meshkini has done both here, and brought it off with great success. The two child actors are astonishingly believable and natural - especially Gol-Ghotai. The emotions they were called upon to portray come across as very real, and are never overplayed. While the subject matter and setting are dark, the director and her actors also manage to inject a few elements that are nothing short of playful - in one scene, after having little success in coaxing the dog they've adopted into eating from a piece of flatbread, Gol-Ghotai holds it over strips of meat smoking on a grill so that it will absorb some of the odor. Her character (whether by instinct or by direction) is obviously pleased with herself for thinking of this - and the twinkle in her eye shows it, and is very real.

I'm not sure how widely this film was distributed to theatres in the US - the DVD was released at one point from (I believe) a Canadian studio, but is no longer readily available in the US. I picked up a region 2 copy released by Artificial Eye in the UK - their releases are generally transferred to digital media with great care (although they contain few `extra items' as a rule), and this one is no exception. It looks and sounds great - one more reason I'm grateful for having a region-free DVD player - and however you can see it, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 29 April 2011
This review is from: Stray Dogs [DVD] (DVD)
A film of great feeling, directed with a remarkable sensitivity, and giving both a sense of the daily life of Kabul, with its beauties and the basic decencies of its people, and the bitterness of a poverty exacerbated by war. This is a film that, instead of being outraged, is capable of instilling a sense of rage at the injustices of the world. This is never done by the display of atrocity, or violence, but by a setting up situations, in part with some well written dialogue, which are affecting. Key also is the use of the children as protagonists, and the children's care for a stray dog they rescue at the start of the film. Throughout, a couple of questions are repeatedly asked (among others): what makes these children different from stray dogs? How can it be that they can take pity on a dog, while no one takes pity on them? The film has some Shakespearean qualities, not only in deftly presenting the madness of their world, but also, and more affectingly, seeing 'going mad' as the expression of proper feeling. There is also a convincing sense of an understanding of the wanton cruelty that goes with powerlessness.

At the film's heart lies the struggle of a brother and sister to stay with their imprisoned mother. This is possible at the beginning of the film, when they are allowed in the prison at night, but then the prison governor forbids this practice, forcing them first to sleep rough, and then to try to get into prison by being arrested. Other plots are interwoven. Their mother sends them to plead for her release to their father, who has had her jailed for marrying while he was away fighting. She had done so mainly as he beat her; throughout the film, the children realise this is not a story that can be told, and so tell the version as their mother recreates it for them -- that she married again because the children needed to be fed, and she thought her husband was dead. This refashioning (of a proper goal aimed at with a knowing falsehood) is a good indicator of the film's intelligence. The father will not relent, and is soon sent to Guatanamo. (The outside forces -- England, Russia, America -- preventing Afghanistan sorting out its own problems?) Finally, and it is a tribute to the kindnesses and understanding shown by those around the children that it takes so long, the brother manages to get arrested, having stolen a bicycle (under the influence of The Bicycle Thieves). Unbearably, he is then taken away from his sister, and to a prison which is -- as we knew -- not his mother's, but a prison full of boys. He worries for his sister on the streets. She is seen, in the closing shot, asking to be let into a prison under the title of the 'sister of the bicycle thief'. What will become of them? She still looks after the dog.

The film is a remarkable achievement, especially given that it is Meshkini's second film. The actors are non-professional, and that shows. The sister can often be seen to be having a great time, and yet she also has a remarkable face, and a brilliant, if amateur, ability to act in situation, and a real sense of timing in the delivery of her lines. Her face is asiatic, and given the stillness of some of the shots, and the focus on old Kabul, there is something of a Japanese or East Asian quality in the film. Presumably this relates to some of the beauty captured in the old buildings and mosques, and the importance of the silk road and so on in Kabul's past, and the film has something of the brilliance of films of Japan's golden age, especially in the wit -- sometimes comic -- and beauty of some of its scenes, and the ability to keep the camera's observing eye at the distance from the life observed that allows one to explore what one sees with an intelligent feeling.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly stunning, 30 Nov 2011
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This review is from: Stray Dogs [DVD] (DVD)
This film has been excellently reviewed above and all I can add is that the outstanding photography in this film left me with images more powerful and lingering than anything I have ever seen in a Hollywood film.
The amateur actors, the sets, the story, the tension and power of the children's performance. I can think of no better contemporary film. And it has stood up to five viewings already.

Package is simple - written notes and commentary. Not that this film needs any extras. Sound great.

It occupies pride of place in my collection.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Barbarians all ?, 9 Dec 2011
This review is from: Stray Dogs [DVD] (DVD)
I am afraid that I was extremely disappointed by this film, which more or less depicted all the Afghan people as cruel and evil barbarians, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The gratuitous dog-fighting episode seemed designed to emphasize this.
It was set, according to the box, in the post-Taliban era. Were we supposed to believe that things were worse under the Taliban?
I really cannot believe that they were, for they, at least, had some sort of organization, unlike the chaos shown here.
Like the three star reviewer, I found myself almost completely uninvolved with the characters, as to me, the children really showed little emotion, as if they were just reading their lines, but not feeling them.
The "Fluffy Dog" yapped far too much as well, and would surely have annoyed the Afghans just as much as it annoyed me.
This compares very unfavorably with Chinese films about children, where the young actors really "live" their roles
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A scruffy dog, 7 Dec 2011
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This review is from: Stray Dogs [DVD] (DVD)
Scruffy little homeless urchins plus fluffy little lost dog = cuteness overload.

And yet by 20 minutes in i didn't feel engaged. The direction was too withdrawn, drama too withheld, the narrative lacking compulsion or even much purpose.

I guess I'm getting more resistant to Iranian films like this with wide-eyed and innocent cute kids. I can see the manipulation involved: pick street urchins up on location; they aren't going to act because they can't act; but you can model them on how to look sympathetically photogenic. The method of delivering script is feed each kid the line they have to say just before the camera is pointed at them; then splice together these separate takes of dialogue in the edit afterwards. This avoids the kids having to act with one another or react in close ups; you just train each kid to hold still the reaction shot you want. But these close ups get to look too (com) posed, repeating the same static expressions; cus the kids aren't interiorizing the feelings they're meant to be experiencing: they mimic pretty - as in cute - facades of sad or angry, rather than enact or dramatize them from within.

So mostly you get scenes in which the dialogue being spoken looks disconnected and sounds disengaged. Which may be why i felt similarly disconnected and disengaged.

Anyway, the little dog does lots of little barking on cue - with about the same level of subtlety as these kids delivering their dialogue.

I'm surprised how slight, even facile, i found this film considering how entranced I was by her (Marzieh Meshkini) first film The Day i Became a Woman.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Children in Afganistan, 3 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Stray Dogs [DVD] (DVD)
A film about 2 children left without parents in a society in totally Chaos, where
customs and moral values are nearly incomprehensible.
An unforgettable description.
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5 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars shoking and fantastic movie! you must see !, 18 Jun 2008
By 
This review is from: Stray Dogs [DVD] (DVD)
West already destroyed the 3rd world and it will remain like that in centuries to come, unfortunately.
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1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schockingly real, 3 May 2010
By 
Evangelos Tozos "ET" (Greece) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stray Dogs [DVD] (DVD)
This film is one of the best Iranian films I have seen.It shows you straightforward <how the other half lives>,in this case the poor devils of Iran.
If you're in the mood of getting a schocking glimpse of how much pain exists in parts of this our planet,order immediately.
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Stray Dogs [DVD]
Stray Dogs [DVD] by Marziyeh Meshkini (DVD - 2006)
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