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SPACE DOGS

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by Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter

grade: 7.5

With an elliptical structure that shows us fascinating images from space, Space Dogs – directed by Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter and premiered at the Viennale 2019 – takes us to the nocturnal streets of Moscow, where we begin to follow the everyday life of two stray dogs during a real fight for survival, as a result of which the strongest one is the one who stays alive. According to this principle, dogs are still being selected from the streets in Russia in order to choose the most suitable ones to be launched into space.

Urban animals (and more)

It was on the 3rd November 1957 that a dog was sent into space for the first time, on board the Soviet Sputnik space capsule. It was, in fact, a little dog, Laika, who, however, did not survive the launch. Legend has it, however, that her spirit somehow returned to earth, reincarnating in turn in other stray dogs living on the streets of Moscow. Taking their cue from this legend, therefore, young film directors Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter have made the documentary Space Dogs, already screened at the Locarno Film Festival 2019 and presented again in the official selection at the Viennale 2019.

A work, therefore, that already from a first, brief reading of the synopsis, gives us the idea of a film that, in reality, lies somewhere between a documentary and a feature film. And in this regard, the directorial approach adopted by the two authors is particularly relevant.

With an elliptical structure that shows us, in the opening and closing, fascinating images from space, Space Dogs immediately takes us to the night-time streets of Moscow, where we immediately begin to follow the everyday life of two stray dogs during a real fight for survival, as a result of which the strongest one is the one who stays alive. According to this principle, dogs are still selected from the streets in Russia today, in order to choose the most suitable for training and then to be launched into space.

A journey, this one, that seems to be undoubtedly difficult, given the previous unsuccessful experiments, during which not only poor Laika, but also chimpanzee Number 65 and a couple of tortoises inevitably perished. Yet, as we know, science progresses. And it often does so in a totally unscrupulous way.

Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter have also included interesting archive footage in their Space Dogs, in order to give us a better understanding of how such training takes place, with moments from the past running parallel with scenes from the present. And it is precisely this second section that is the most interesting in the feature film. In narrating, in fact, the everyday life of the two little dogs, the two directors have opted for a Zavattini-like approach, for a mise-en-scene in which words dutifully give way to images. Thus, long scenes in which we see the two dogs foraging for food, smelling strange odours in the city, resting, playing together and, from time to time, even attacking each other.

A particularly contemplative approach – that of Space Dogs – in a film that does not hesitate, often and willingly, to cause us heavy emotional shocks. And not only in the moments in which, thanks to old archive footage, we see the actual training in anticipation of the launches, but also – and above all – during the terrible scene in which the two dogs attack a cat in the street, playing with it so violently that they kill it.

And so Space Dogs – produced by the emerging Raumzeitfilm Produktion, founded by the directors themselves – turns out to be a very important work, both in terms of denouncing specific treatment of animals and because, at the same time, it helps us to learn more about a world whose backstage is still unknown to most. A work, therefore, that is not afraid of daring, treading often ‘uncomfortable’ paths and daring a completely personal mise-en-scene.

Last but not least, there is also a strong lyrism that frames this important Space Dogs. A lyrism present in every single scene, from the scenes set in space to the moment when the sun sets in the great city, the open-air home of many, many stray dogs.

Original title: Space Dogs
Directed by: Elsa Kremser, Levin Peter
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2019
Running time: 91’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Elsa Kremser, Levin Peter
Cinematography: Yunus Roy Imer
Produced by: Raumzeitfilm Produktion, It Works Medien GmbH, Vita Aktiva

Info: the page of Space Dogs on the website of the Viennale; the page of Space Dogs on iMDb