Slamdance Review: Beware of Dog
The question of social media’s value is one that’s talked about every day across the world. For all the ways technology has seemingly brought us together, plenty of people feel increasingly isolated. Nadia Bedzhanova’s Beware of Dog focuses on three characters in three different countries, each struggling to cope with loneliness exacerbated by mental illnesses.
Marina (Marina Vasileva) struggles with OCD in Moscow, faced with a boyfriend who doesn’t care much about her. Paula (Paula Knüpling) meets a traveler in Berlin who’s interested in her romantically, though her bipolar disorder causes problems with her communication skills. Mike (Buddy Duress) is doing his best to stay clean, desperate for his girlfriend to reciprocate the attention he’s trying to give.
Bedzhanova juggles her film’s three leads well, a director with a keen sense for detail. Filming in three beautiful cities, she often uses the landscape to accentuate the isolation that her characters feel. New York, Moscow, and Berlin are beautiful yet deeply intimidating cities. In many ways, the settings feel like characters themselves.
The film has a knack for communicating mental illness in nonverbal ways. Bedzhanova shows off her skills as a director to craft surrealistic sequences that illustrate the hardships that her character’s face. The audience gets a front row seat to the conflict, understanding the flaws of the protagonists while retaining a large degree of sympathy for them.
Beware of Dog captures the universality of humanity. You get the sense that Bedzhanova could swap the characters’ surroundings and the end result would be the same. The film makes easy work of cultural boundaries, showing its audience all the things we share in common.
The ideas that the film addresses are quite complex, without easy answers. The supporting characters help the narrative grapple with the leads’ imperfections. Mike in particular is a sympathetic guy who’s also essentially his own worst enemy. Paula is quite frustrating in her behavior. Bedzhanova presents these dynamics in a way that helps the audience understand where these people are coming from without condoning their actions.
In some ways, Beware of Dog is a frustrating narrative. Focusing on three leads is a tricky proposition for a film with a runtime of under ninety minutes. That line of thinking can also apply to narratives with only one lead, but the audience is left with a sense that there were plenty of elements of the film left to be explored.
Beware of Dog is a thought-provoking film that handles its many moving pieces with grace. There’s a lot left on the table, but Bedzhanova crafted a narrative that examines the many facets of mental illness in a way that never feels trite or exploitative. Loneliness knows no borders.