The Dog Thief Review
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In the lonely streets of La Paz, 13-year-old Martin lives a lonelier life. The lad’s mother is no more and he is “too old” to have a chance to get adopted. Martin shines shoes on the streets with his face duly masked to avoid any more bullying from his schoolmates. Martin’s sole ray of hope is not his aged guardian Gladys but a wealthy and elderly tailor named Señor Novoa. At the epicenter of The Dog Thief is the latter’s beloved German Shepherd, his sole friend, whom Martin steals to obtain some quick buck. Things go wrong when the dog’s absence makes the boy and the rich man bond. 

Helmed by Vinko Tomičić Salinas, The Dog Thief captures the brooding, uncrowded spaces of the Bolivian capital with a unique vigor (camera by Sergio Armstrong is among the film’s strongest merits). As clueless as Martin is, he is anxious for a brighter future. He is willing to work hard, yet is stranded between childhood and adulthood. The side characters are highly consequential in the larger narrative although Martin is the only one who gets an arc.

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The most interesting event in the film, however, is not the act of stealing the dog. It is the quiet fashion in which Señor Novoa gives Martin access to his life. It is as if Martin replaces Astor (the dog) in the picture. “Did you ever wish for a family?”, asks Martin at one point. We know Astor was his family, perhaps by choice. There’s also an unpleasant revelation that hat the screenplay appears to guard. Although its existence foreshadows a conventional yet eventful finale, the film strangely chooses to close differently – leaving many questions unanswered. The ending is not particularly open but is puzzling as it wastes the energy spent by the actors thus far.

Screened at the 2024 edition of Tribeca Festival, The Dog Thief invests a lot of its time in imagining its leads’ lonely existences. The actors Alfredo Castro and Franklin Aro are superb throughout. Aro, in a breakout act, possesses a strong screen presence and has immense acting potential. The frames where the DOP places the lad amid dump sites and cemeteries become the most heartbreaking minutes in Salinas’ film which is a quiet ode to orphan life. For them, family love is absent and so are opportunities to prosper. In this vicious loop of life, the masks stay put, forcing homeless orphans such as Martin to turn into criminals. The Dog Thief, despite its unsatisfactory ending, puts a profound thought across – a relevant, heartbreaking one in every way.

Rating: ★★★

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Tusshar Sasi

Author at Filmy Sasi
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