Political Film Society - Newsletter #278 - May 1, 2007

May 1, 2007


Year of the DogIn the Chinese twelve-year Zodiac cycle, the most recent year of the dog was 2006. The film Year of the Dog, which evidently takes place in 2006, revolves around Peggy (played by Molly Shannon), whose best friend is her beagle dog, Pencil. She sleeps with her dog and has pictures of her dog adorn her workplace cubicle. Her best human friends are coworker Layla (played by Regina King) and the family of her sister Bret (played by Laura Dern), including Bret’s husband and two children. She curries favor by providing donuts to coworkers and presents to her sister’s family. One night her dog escapes beyond her house in Duarte, California, and is found the next morning dying on the property of her next door neighbor, Al (played by John C. Reilly). At an animal clinic, a veterinarian is summoned, and Pencil is pronounced dead; the cause is toxic poisoning. Peggy is profoundly saddened. Al tries to console her with a dinner but seeks to kiss her before she has recovered from the shock. Then she receives a telephone call from Newt (played by Peter Sarsgaarad), who mans the switchboard of the animal clinic. He has noticed her grief and has a dog for her to adopt named Valentine, but he insists that he alone can train the dog, who was abused. Accordingly, the two become acquainted, and she learns that he is a vegan. However, when she tries to extend the friendship into a relationship, he demurs. Valentine, however, bites Peggy on one occasion, so Newt offers to take the dog back on a temporary basis. When Valentine kills one of Newt’s favorite pets, he has the dog put to sleep, upsetting Peggy. Meanwhile, Peggy has been promoting the vegan lifestyle to her friends and has been visiting animal rights websites; she even takes her niece to Paradise Farm, where farm animals have been liberated from eventual slaughter, so she can meet the chicken that Peggy has paid for her to be the sponsor. She tries to get signatures on a petition from coworkers to stop the use of animals in experiments, but her boss Robin (played by Josh Pais) disapproves, telling her that medical advances have been possible because of testing on animals. Peggy is fired when Robin learns that she forged her signature on a check payable to an animal rights organization. When Peggy visits the pound to find a new pet, she learns that fifteen are imminently scheduled to be put to sleep, so she adopts them all on the pretext that she will find homes for them, as there is a limit to three pets per household in Duarte. When the barking keeps Al awake, he files a police complaint, her animals are seized, and she is arrested. Her brother-in-law bails her out of jail, and coworkers fight to get her back on the job, but the experience has transformed her into becoming fully committed as an animal rights activist. Year of the Dog is advertised as a comedy, but the humor is not wit but instead a series of unusual situations that may prompt filmviewers to laugh at Peggy’s plight when another response might be to feel sympathy for those who bond with their pets because they have lost the ability to trust humans. The tagline, “Has the world left you astray?” says what the director, Mike White, evidently wants audiences to ponder. MH

Red Road, directed by Andrea Arnold, focuses on Jackie (played by Kate Dickie), who is obsessed with Clyde (played by Tony Curran), a felon recently been paroled for an offense of some sort. The film takes place in Glasgow, is in English, but has English subtitles for the benefit of audiences who will not fathom lower-class accented speech. Glasgow is one of several British cities with cameras at various locations, presumably in the most crime-infested parts of town. Jackie sits in a control room, monitoring about fifty screens. She is able to change the position of the camera to follow action. Filmviewers will gain sympathy for her as she directs police to assist a homeless woman and others in need. However, her pursuit of Clyde goes beyond her job. She barges her way into Clyde’s apartment, pretending to be an invited guest, and she even takes a taxi to a pub where Clyde hangs out. The mystery of the film is to determine why Jackie is so obsessed that she has sex with Clyde so that she can subsequently have him charged with rape, but eventually the truth comes out, and she soon drops all charges. What is of particular interest in the film is the Orwellian manner in which a British city is so closely monitored, and there is an element of reality TV in the format. Red Road demonstrates CCTV’s benign aspects as well as how the surveillance system can be abused. Indeed, one estimate is that CCTV cameras record the average Briton 300 times a day. Filmviewers must decide for themselves whether the loss of privacy justifies the system. MH