Saturday, January 29, 2022

Slamdance ’22: Doggy Love

Immanuel Kant wrote: “we can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” By this standard, our judgement of the Iranian government should be harsh. The clerics have proclaimed dogs unclean, so the government pays bounties to those who hunt them down. Yet, many Iranians still love dogs, because they are dogs, but they must do so secretly. Yassi and Aslan are more open about their canine affection, running an underground dog shelter that is probably not underground enough. Their efforts will break the hearts of dog lovers in Mahmoud Ghaffari’s Doggy Love, which screens as part of the (online) 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

Aslan’s relationship with Yassi is dysfunctional, to say the least. They both have plenty of issues and insecurities, but they are all their dogs (250 and counting) have. Frankly, Yassi doesn’t even feel like she is in a relationship with Aslan, but she does not have the heart to make that clear. She also wants to keep him dedicated to their dogs. He constantly berates her for over-crowding their embattled shelter on the outskirts of town. Yet, he is the one who always pulls over to tend to wounded creatures, whom he inevitably brings home to the shelter.

At about an hour in length,
Doggy Love is short, but not sweet. Viewers will feel for these poor pooches and the mismatched couple taking care of them, regardless of their faults. For the first fifty minutes or so, Ghaffari plays it cool and clever. There is no overt criticism of the wider Iranian society. Yet, the cruel attitudes of their dog-hating traditional neighbors are hard to miss—same for their misogyny.

However, the film really lowers the boom in the closing minutes, when Aslan explains most of Yassi’s sponsors are women, because Iranian women identify with her canines’ plight. It is a heavy statement, but he means it.

There is nothing fancy about Ghaffari’s film. It is filmed on the streets, with all kinds of street smarts. What it lacks in prettiness, it makes up for in urgency. It is a crying shame to see animals treated this way—and the harassment Yassi faces is just ugly.

Secret dog love in Iran has already inspired several films, most notably Jafar Panahi’s
Closed Curtain. Ghaffari (who has had several narrative films at international festivals) proves that Panahi exaggerated nothing (in fact, the situation on the ground for Iranian Spots and Fidos might even be worse than Curtain suggests). Highly recommended for anyone concerned with animal rights or human rights, Doggy Love screens online through Sunday (2/6), during this year’s Slamdance.