Directed by Elizabeth Lo.
The world of Zeytin, a stray dog living life on the streets of Istanbul.
In her feature debut, short filmmaker Elizabeth Lo (who also filmed, produced and edited the project herself) primarily follows Zeytin around the streets of Turkey’s busiest city. Occasionally accompanied by fellow strays Nazar and Kartal, she wanders aimlessly in search of food, shelter, warmth and, above all else, affection, soon finding it in the company of a young group of Syrian refugees.
What first appears to be a straightforward look at homeless dogs soon becomes something else entirely; Stray shows us the world we think we know through the eyes of an unconventional protagonist, asking provocative societal questions along the way.
Although the film mostly plays out wordlessly, Zeytin’s encounters with passers-by are always compelling, as Lo keenly observes everything from casual conversations between friends to the political unrest and riots taking place around them. Zeytin is treated with varying degrees of contempt and compassion, with some of the film’s most touching moments coming from the reassuring strokes from those around her.
The film’s themes really begin to take shape as Zeytin spends more time with her Syrian friends, who are themselves without a home, desperate for the same basic help that she craves every day. The boys do their best to get by in the face of much adversity, drawing clear parallels with Zeytin’s own experiences, as she moves from human to human, fight to fight, achingly trying to make ends meet.
Stray is beautifully shot, always at eye-level with Zeytin, Nazar or Kartal, placing the audience literally and figuratively on their level. Lo’s clever use of close-ups allows us to see the soul behind their eyes and the suffering they feel. When Zeytin is tired, we feel it, too. When she is sad or scared, we want nothing more than to reach through the screen and cover her with a blanket.
Lo is asking serious questions here about how the most defenceless and desperate among us are treated. This is so much more than an observational documentary designed to make dog lovers weep; rather, the filmmaker is holding a mirror up to the viewer and forcing them to come face-to-face with their own humanity and show some compassion.
Stray is raw, moving, and unashamed of its desperation; a subtle but ingenious look at the pitfalls of humanity through the tragic eyes of man’s best friend. It’s a masterwork, and a serious calling card for Elizabeth Lo, a filmmaker with a voice that demands to be heard.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★