Review: Mutts (2019)

Courtesy of Pravo Ljudski Film Festival

Halima Ouardiri’s short documentary Mutts (also known as Hounds) had a brilliant start into this year. It was awarded Special Prize of the Generation 14plus International Jury and Crystal Bear Short in the Generation competition at Berlinale Shorts, from where it continued its pretty busy international festival life. Now playing in the second program section of Pravo Ljudski Film Festival titled ‘On My Decomposing Body, the People will Sow Their Future: What to do with all this violence?’, Mutts is screened in the company of nine other films that deal with issues related to different manifestations of violence.

In festival’s press release for this particular programmatic chapter (every six days a new program opens for viewing, closing the previous one), there is a passage about the division of the Earth through territorialization and delienation of borders ending with the conclusion that in “such a world, when only one immigrant crosses the “holy” border, the whole system shudders”. Looking carefully into that, the understanding of borders is easily expanded to another level. In a much broader sense, every limitation of physical space imposed upon an individual by other individuals, institutions or state in form of divisive partition walls, locked doors, cages, ghettos, areas surrounded or kept under watch, is an act of violence. Furthermore, it is cynical that spaces meant to give refuge come with many restrictions of freedom, particularly related to the freedom of movement.

Mutts can be read as a metaphor, but taking only that position in interpretation of the narrative would do the film injustice. The documentary is as much about mutts as it is about humans with its clear equality sign between all caged lives, between those cornered and dislocated, left to fight for food and a place to sleep, those waiting for someone to save them, uncage them, give them a bit of love. Passion gets inflamed, babies are born, some love is re-gained, but the space remains hermetic. The very title with its pejorative connotation for humans and mongrels alike, is indicative of double standards we live with.

Dialogue free and focused on (some of) 750 dogs sheltered in ‘Le Cœur sur la Patte‘ sanctuary in Agadir (Morocco), Mutts almost doesn’t feel like a documentary regarding the way it was approached cinematographically. While the scenes of collective feeding caught by the drone show the dynamic of the pack, low angles reveal individual reactions of dogs and their positioning in space. Due to Ouardiri’s concept, so swiftly brought to life by smart directorial choices and great camera work by Anna Cooley with her keen eye on details caught with love, but also by the skillful hand of Ayoub Hafri and his photography shot by drone, Mutts becomes a dynamic drama of animal condition that projects the universal story of seclusion and entrapment we can relate to.

Original Title: Clebs
Country: Canada
Language: Arabic
Year: 2019
Runtime: 18′
short documentary
Executive Producer: Jean David
Producer: Halima Ouardiri
Written & Directed by: Halima Ouardiri
Cinematographer: Anna Cooley
Drone: Abdelmounim Elhaddouni
Dronne Assistant: Ayoub Hafri
Sound Design: Bruno Pucella
Sound Recording: Halima Ouardiri
Radio voice: Samir Bendjafer
Production director: Ilham Raouf
Sound Effects: Paul Hubert