Space Dogs (2019) ** mubi

September 13th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Elsa Kremser, Levin Peter; Documentary with voice over by Alexey Serebryakov; Germany/Austria 2019, 91 min.

Writers/directors and producers Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter cobble together a rather meaningless documentary featuring long shots of rather scruffy dogs on Moscow’s contemporary streets. Making up more than seventy minutes of the running time, the seemingly unstructured images are edited in an unsatisfactory montage with clips from USSR spacecraft history, with a focus on experiments with dogs and turtles. The combination of the two central strands is rather tenuous, and a pretentious voiceover by Alexey Serebryakov is not always helpful.

Laika was found roaming the streets of Moscow where she was captured and sent into Space, never to return. In November 1957 she started her journey, circling the earth, before dying. In contrast, the US Space programme used a chimpanzee, captured in Cameroon, and named Number 65. He survived his journey but found himself back on Earth in a zoo in Washington DC where he was lonely having got used to human company. Number 65 died overweight and of liver failure. To bring the message home, we are shown a couple of humans in Moscow dressing a chimpanzee called ‘Buh’ like a waiter, for a performance in a nightclub. More clips from the USSR Space programme show returning dogs having an ECG and being comforted by the female medical staff. More up to date clips show dogs savagely killing a toy cat, the voice-over extolling their heroism. When two turtles approach a dog, we are informed the pair were supposed to be the first creatures from Earth, orbiting the moon. But the Soviet space capsule drifted from its calculated course, and the turtles floated through space, “hopefully finding a new world in another universe”. It all culminates with cute puppies in front of their rather ramshackle den. Above them a nightingale sings, but its warning is too late: humans put poisoned meat in front of the puppies’ den.

The mythical comments do not fit the images of the rather ordinary, scruffy dogs whose surroundings are squalid, to say the least. DoP Yunus Roy Imer succeeds in makingmodern Moscow look like a provincial town on its last legs – not just the dogs. The directors’ premise is vague. What are they trying to establish: Animal cruelty? Animal bravery? A missed opportunity. AS


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