SXSW FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Man’s best friend. That’s how we regard dogs. But how do they view us? Are we dog’s best friend? That’s the question filmmaker Matthew Salleh poses in his heartfelt dog-umentary We Don’t Deserve Dogs. By traveling the globe, he reveals a plethora of wildly disparate individuals, each of whom harbors a unique connection with their canine companion. His documentary might be a tad saccharine for some, but, like a good lick in the face by an adorable puppy, it’s near-impossible to resist.
Salleh’s reach is extraordinary. He travels from South America to Africa, from Scotland to Turkey and Vietnam. For the most part, his subjects and their dogs live a mutually-beneficial lifestyle. Former child soldiers in Uganda treat them like spirit animals, finding in them the strength to deal with their past. “When naming a dog here,” Filda says, “We choose the name inspired by true-life experiences.” Stigmatized by her neighbors, she called her dog Lok Oroma, which translates as “Looks Don’t Hurt Me.”
There are examples where that symbiosis morphs into stranger forms. A saddened Vietnamese gentleman mourns the decrease in dog meat consumption. An uber-pampered dog receives annual birthday parties. It is frankly the most horrifying part of the film, which Salleh regards mournfully, with a sad piano score complementing the otherwise jolly proceedings (more on that score later). Then there’s Chino, the wanderer, who leads an independent double life and likes to visit the local grocery store.
“Are we dog’s best friend? That’s the question filmmaker Matthew Salleh poses in his heartfelt dog-umentary…”
Blake Ewing’s continuous (I’m serious, it never ends throughout the entire narrative) sentimental score may prove to be too suffocating for folks with a low tolerance for syrupy sentiment. The pace is leisurely and gentle, so those expecting a searing treatise on our mistreatment of canines, supplemented by a historical account of said relationship, will be disappointed.
That said, Salleh’s devotion to the subject is evident. His beautiful camerawork, capturing all those international locations, goes a long way to liven up the proceedings, as do the charming interviewees. We Don’t Deserve Dogs is filled with stories both inspiring and heartbreaking, such as one told by a Santiago citizen about abandoning his dog Rocky, or a pet rescuer talking about her adorable bullterrier.
We certainly learn more about the owners than we do about the canines, for even Salleh’s keen, insightful eye isn’t able to penetrate those furry skulls. Most of his subjects are kind, generous, and do, in fact, seem to deserve their best friends. The feeling appears to be reciprocated. Regardless of whether We Don’t Deserve Dogs is as incendiary as its title suggests, dog lovers are bound to lap this up.
We Don’t Deserve Dogs was scheduled to screen at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.