“Realism is a form of hypocrisy. We are telling stories that take place in simulated worlds. Genre films like scifi, fantasy or horror are just more honest about that.”
“I wanted to make A LIVING DOG not only because I love genre films and independent films but also because I admire silent movies and the era of german expressionism. Dialogue is a great thing but I think today we hear far too much talking in movies. Actors explain the plot to each other in endless expository scenes. I didn’t want that. I wanted something pure! Something you can see and feel and that keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
(Daniel Raboldt, director, A Living Dog)
2019 has been a very good year for Independent SF film.
So far this year’s festival season has produced the stunning revisionist space Western, Prospect, the intense two-player spaceborne drama, Das letzte Land, and the retro-futuristic mystery, The Tangle. Some years you’re lucky to find one film this good, let alone three.
And yet, here’s a fourth.
We created the robots to be or loyal servants.
Well, that didn’t work out.
Instead, they rebelled and are hard at work eliminating what’s left of the human race. Unfortunately, their advanced voice recognition systems mean that they’ll find you if you say even one word.
Tomasz is a soldier who ran away after the robots killed the others in his unit. All he cares about is his own survival. Unfortunately, he encounters a young Russian soldier, Lilja, who has her own agenda and expects him to help.
Daniel Raboldt has set himself a very tough set of story-telling challenges here — and far tougher because they all seem to have been taken to the next level: not only is the film “silent” — or at least lacks any spoken dialogue — but there are no title cards, no narration, and only a few written words here and there — and he conveys one of the most important lines of dialogue with a single sketch. While it is a classic two-player drama, it is for much of its run — or perhaps most of it — the far more challenging single player drama.
And yet, not only did he create a tense, suspenseful and engrossing film, but he also gives us a surprisingly nuanced character study of his hero.
Without a line of dialogue. Or even a word.
And if you aren’t impressed yet, just remember that this was his first feature length film.
Now many of you reading this will immediately think of last year’s incredible SF Horror film, A Quiet Place. It is true that both films feature a world where the slightest sound may lead to your death. However, Daniel Raboldt has been working on his film since 2016 — something that should come as little surprise for a modest but effects-heavy production like this. Nor is there much resemblance between the two as Tomasz is very much on his own, and his solutions to the problems he encounters are often…uncomfortable, to say the least.
However, while the solid robot and drone effects are one of the most notable parts of the film — after the incredible Finnish scenery, that is — again Daniel sets himself an even higher challenge with a POV underwater shot of one of the largest robots. It is a moment which perhaps most closely reveals his affinity with the classic German Expressionists.
One thing I noticed was that, in the moment or two when the film seems to be stalling out, he suddenly upends everything and sends his story off in a new direction.
Which is actually a very clever piece of construction.
The best part is that, with a film that depends so little on the language of words and so much on the language of film, we need not fear that it will vanish unseen like so many other foreign films have: after all, it doesn’t matter that Americans won’t watch subtitled films, if there is no need for them.
One thing does worry me, though: with directors like Christopher Soren Kelley, Marcel Barion, Daniel Raboldt and the team of Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl — and films like Prospect, The Tangle, Das Letzte Land and A Living Dog — we’re getting awfully spoiled this year. I have no idea how will cope when the inevitable slow year finally comes.
After all, there aren’t many people who can make films like this.
And there aren’t that many SF films as good…
(My thanks to Daniel Raboldt for proving a screener!)