Elizabeth Lo’s feature-length documentary debut Stray is one of the most deceptively simple films of recent years.
Over a brief 72 minutes, the beautiful film takes us on a quiet and meditative journey to the streets of Istanbul to simply observe a group of stray dogs going about their business in a “day in the life” style. At its’ core, it is a compellingly poetic snapshot of life on the streets as the homeless of the city, both canine and human, live their lives. Viewers looking for deeper meaning in substance can certainly find it between the lines – the film has a lot to say about homelessness and society (the film doesn’t shy away from observing a trio of Syrian refugees huffing glue, partially earning the film its’ perhaps a little dramatic 18 certificate).
But the film’s surface is its most compelling – Stray is best enjoyed as a simple and calming journey through the streets in the company of some adorable dogs. Richly lyrical and poetic, low-angle cinematography (at dog’s-eye level) follows our canine heroes across the city and puts us right into their world. It’s fascinating to see a stray dog’s daily agenda, patrolling the streets, begging for scraps and getting into fights over turf. Told entirely without narration or talking head commentary, the film’s narrative is almost entirely visual. Limited (subtitled) dialogue comes from strangers around the city observed through the dogs’ eyes, as well as the aforementioned trio of refugees that main dog Zeytin often crosses paths with.
Crowbarred-in quotes from Diogenes throughout the film about the philosophy of dogs are certainly sweet but it’s debatable whether they’re really needed – apart from anything, they act as chapter breaks but offer little particular value to the film itself. Stray is at its best when it is simply following the titular dogs, soulfully observing the minutiae of their lives with beautiful intimacy. This is a wonderful and peaceful film that puts the viewer into the minds of our four-legged friends like never before.
Stray is available now on digital, DVD and Blu-ray from Dogwoof.