Todd Solondz has been exploring his animal side. Granted, the films that first placed him at the forefront of independent American auteur cinema – Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), Happiness (1998), Storytelling (2001), and Palindromes (2004) – were well-acquainted with the bestial side of human behavior, offering unflinching and sometimes repulsive examinations of bullying, pedophilia, abortion activism, racial fetishization and the adhesive properties of semen.
Since 2009’s Life During Wartime, a theoretical sequel to Happiness, Solondz has toned down the bad-boy transgressions of his first few films, allowing his humanist sympathies to rise to the surface. Building on the structural aspects of Palindromes, Solondz’s recent films have become more self-referential (subtly building an interlocking “Solondz-World”), self-critical, and have increased their visual beauty even as they gaze into the soulless void of suburbia.
.Wiener-Dog, Solondz’s newest film, is a story told in four parts (plus an intermission), tracing the sad progress of a hapless dachshund as she is shuttled among four different owners. They include a heartless yuppie couple (Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy), Dollhouse’s now-grown Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), a burnt-out film professor (Danny DeVito), and an elderly former artist (Ellen Burstyn). The pointy-nosed canine drives the film forward, like time’s proverbial arrow on four stubby legs, leading us to the exploding fur-covered inevitable. (Editor’s note: this interview reveals the ending.)
Filmmaker: Several of your recent films have involved structural conceits, particularly Storytelling (2001) and Palindromes (2004). How did you decide on using a dog as the means to move between the four stories in Wiener-Dog?