Dog Days: Bettina Perut and Iván Osnovikoff’s “Los Reyes”
Trying to depict animals respectfully is extremely difficult. It’s far easier to go for cute anthropomorphism, à la the popular Turkish documentary Kedi (2016). The Chilean film Los Reyes (2018) follows two dogs, Futbol and Chola, for a year in a Santiago skate park. It avoids narration, although it often layers the conversation of teen skaters on top of images of the dogs, and never tries to editorialize about them. Perut and Osnovikoff’s choice of camera angles avoids the obvious; there are relatively few medium shots and many images which, from a conventional perspective, seem too close or too far.
Parts of Los Reyes feel like an exercise in demonstrating the Kuleshov effect. What does the film evoke by framing and editing shots of the dogs? It’s funny when Futbol grips a cigarette pack by his teeth, with only the health warning visible. The film then goes on to deliver a whimsical montage of dogs with soda cans, stones, twigs, and tennis balls in their jaws. But the use of extreme close-ups gets increasingly pointed when Futbol’s old age becomes more and more visible. He starts attracting predatory insects. Perut and Osnovikoff film them at such tight angles that flies on his eyeball look more like landing modules on an alien planet. The glistening drips of blood they draw from his head are chillingly detailed.
Los Reyes began as a far different film. In its current form, it carefully balances the canine and human presence in the park. But the directors first planned to make a documentary about the kids who hang out there. They proved to be camera-shy, perhaps because they’re major stoners. But even though drugs are their main subject of conversation, they agreed to be hooked up to wireless microphones as long as the camera’s focus went elsewhere. Hence, Perut and Osnokivoff decided that a new concentration on the dogs was the best way to portray the park.
There are a few on-the-nose moments when the skaters’ stories are edited together with images so that they match: a recollection of getting high and falling asleep in school plays over a shot of a dog drifting gently in and out of consciousness. Besides those exceptions, Los Reyes makes no attempt to use the dogs to literally illustrate the skaters’ life, or vice versa. They work as counterpoint, or as two paths to a similar destination. Roberto Espinoza’s sound design mixes the teenagers’ talk with the natural sounds of Futbol and Chola’s life.
The film begins with a deceptive lassitude. Narrative seems to be the last thing on its mind. Nor does it seem concerned with a subject matter that one can easily pin down. But if the skaters seem to have stepped out of a Richard Linklater ensemble film, they’re not slackers. Even when doing nothing all day but smoking joints, popping pills, and skating, making money is a focal point of their talk. One of them wants to open a business selling edibles when marijuana is legalized in Chile. In the meantime, dealing drugs has its dangers, like the threat of violence that often accompanies it.
Los Reyes never even comes close to being a story-driven documentary like Three Identical Strangers (2018). But it does develop themes, and a sense of focus and momentum in its second half. If Futbol’s emotions remain somewhat mysterious, his loneliness and sexual frustration seem visible when he humps a pillow. The first time we hear music in the film, it signals a temporary expulsion of the dogs, as Monster Energy Drink hosts a DJ for a party in the park and puts up a temporary barrier around it. Futbol and Chola have to relocate on the lawn around its newly clean and crowded center.
It would be easy for Los Reyes to aim for cheap pathos in either of its “storylines.” There’s no Larry Clark-style moralism, or the equivalent of Minding the Gap’s (2018) critical perspective regarding masculinity and violence, to its depiction of the skaters — just a slow realization that they eventually have to find a legal way to earn money. The directors speak volumes in their framing of Chola by herself, generally in long shot, in the film’s final minutes. Even though it’s a fairly gentle and mellow film, its evocation of days in the park with little to do and diminishing prospects cuts to the bone.