Told entirely though the use of static imagery, filmmaker John Harden has lovingly crafted the ultimate homage to Chris Marker’s grand epic of fait accompli – La Jétee. Harden plies his film with the same exacting nature, the same austere imagery and the same dry and factual dialogue. What should add up to little more than a pleasant bookend to Marker’s tour de force winds up as a wholly satisfying entry into the sanctuary experimental film.
The issue here is freedom, that freedom is encapsulated in the tale of a French scientist who discovers a drug, which allows a human being to be transformed into a dog. This temporary transformation is the catalyst for a revolution as ordinary Parisians discover the absolute liberty the drug affords them. Unable to control a population on the verge of anarchy, the French government imprisons the scientist and forces him to work on a “gene lock” formula that will effectively end the public’s ability to alter their physical state.
Director Harden sets his film in 1962, the same year that Marker filmed La Jétee, and six years before the revolutionary May ’68 student strikes. Although the production never needs to directly address the correlation between the actions of the Republic in the film and the later day uprising or the French Libertine philosophy, all those aspects provide La Vie d’un Chien a facinating socio-political subtext and an immediacy that is palatible regardless of whether the film is set in 1960s France or the new milinnium America.
It would be easy to be overly critical of a director who is essentially borrowing an entire style of filmmaking from a known masterpiece, but Harden’s film is so well made with such deep satirical wit that one can only marvel at the sheer poetry of what appears on the screen. This is one short film that rightfully deserves its hallowed placement along side its magical inspiration, and that is a feat that few filmmakers ever achieve in homage.