The Dogwalker

dogwalker.jpgEvery year hundreds of films are produced and released here in the United States, but it is only a relatively select few that ever garner any sort of real attention. The vast majority of films that make it in the spotlight are the big-budget productions that Hollywood churns out. Occasionally, a smaller, independent film manages to break out and get some attention, but even films like Little Miss Sunshine or Half Nelson have the distinct advantage of having actors with recognizable names and faces. Truly rare are the films like The Puffy Chair or Raising Victor Vargas–movies with no recognizable actors and therefore no star power–that manage get a few brief moments in the comparatively small spotlight of attention. But for all of these rare films that are given a fighting chance of being discovered, there are all the other films that get lost in the shuffle. And unless you’re lucky enough to see these films at a festival, or somehow stumble across them, many go unnoticed.

Jacques Thelemaque’s The Dogwalker is one of those films that stands on its own next to anything being churned out by the studios, but still runs the risk of going largely unseen. Diane Gaidry stars as Ellie, a hard-luck woman fleeing from a troubled life. As the film opens, Ellie is literally on the run, racing through the airport at Buffalo, New York, looking to hop a plane anywhere. Ellie’s battered and bruised face tells us all we need to know about the life she is leaving behind, and as she arrives in Los Angeles her helplessness and a serious of bad decisions indicate what has certainly been a self-destructive life. Fleeing another one of her bad choices, a drunken Ellie finds herself drunkenly stumbling into a park where she passes out. When she wakes up the next morning, she finds that she is in a dog park where she soon meets the gruff Betsy (Pamela Gordon), an aging woman who makes a living caring for other people’s dogs. Ellie and Betsy form an unlikely friendship, in part because they both come a similar life of abuse and shattered self-esteem, and as the two spend more time together, Ellie begins to grow as a person.

The Dogwalker is a quiet character study that charts the personal, emotional and spiritual growth of one person. It would be easy for a film of this nature to fall apart under the weight of heavy-handed dialog and sanctimonious musings of the writer-director. But Thelemaque’s script manages to steer clear of over-wrought dialog, and even though the story itself does not venture anywhere unexpected, he is careful to not boldly shout his intentions in every frame of every scene. I think the word for that is “subtlety.”

The combination of Thelemaque’s direction and Marco Fargnoli’s cinematography work to create a wonderfully stylish visual experience. The strong visual dynamic of The Dogwalker, when brought into play with the performances of Gaidry and Gordon, make for a solid film experience. This is the sort of film that had it starred someone like Naomi Watts or Kate Winslett, would have become a breakout indie hit. But the truth is that The Dogwalker doesn’t need stars of that caliber to be what it is, which is a very good movie.

The DVD includes a great selection of bonus features, including four short films by Thelemaque. These films are in their own ways as good, and at times better than The Dogwalker itself. As odd as it may seem, the shorts are what makes this DVD worth owning. Without the short films I would most likely encourage people to rent The Dogwalker, but the shorts are entertaining enough in their own right, that I would actually encourage some people to consider purchasing the disc instead.

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