depression, death… and a dachshund

If you had to choose a dog breed to tie together themes of mortality, disease, depression and thwarted ambition, it’s unlikely that the first to come to mind would be a smooth-haired dachshund. Chipper little hounds, with an inherently comic waddle, they are too upbeat to fit neatly into this portmanteau picture with its overriding theme of disappointment. And yet director Todd Solondz’s gift for casting clearly extends to animals.

The two dogs that combine to play the single central role manage to display exactly the tone of nervy, neurotic uncertainty that you would expect from the lead in a Solondz movie. It’s something about the expressive anxious droop of the ears, combined with a gift for physical comedy that is a birthright if your legs are barely an inch or two long. This hapless canine serves to highlight the failings of the humans around it.

Solondz cites as disparate influences Au Hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson’s tale of a long-suffering donkey, and Benji, the tale of a plucky mutt who rescues two kidnapped kids. In its episodic structure, if not in tone, the picture also has something in common with War Horse – human lives are touched, albeit briefly, by a noble animal, although Solondz’s approach is decidedly heavier on irony than that of Spielberg.

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