My Dog Killer

My Dog Killer


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Perhaps Michael Haneke’s greatest legacy to cinema, once the auteurist dust settles, will be the extent to which he made his brand of false objectivity appealing. To be sure, though technological changes are allowing more artists to take up filmmaking as a mode of expression. Too many of those who do so seem to be taking their drama for granted: though they are demonstrably capable of composition and even of intermittent flash, they apparently have very little to say about the world and its material struggles. As Godard suggests at one point in Notre Musique (2004), just because someone holds a pencil doesn’t mean they can draw.

Unfortunately, this is also the case for My Dog Killer (Mój Pes Killer), the second feature from Slovak director Mira Fornay, which demonstrates the kind of “aesthetic restraint” that too many mistake for artistic daring. At the film’s centre is Marek (Adam Mihál), a lanky but steely and shifty-eyed teenager whose woolly commitment to neo-Nazism is evident from the off. Over the course of a single day, this listless skinhead plays messenger boy between his separated parents on opposite sides of the Slovak-Moravian border. Awaking at dawn (which provides an exceptional opening shot), Marek assists at his father’s vineyard, and is sent soon after to pursue and obtain legal documents from his mother Marika (Irena Bendová), a gypsy woman living with her younger son – Marek’s brother – Lukas (Libor Filo) in a cut-off community across town.

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Fornay’s decision to make a film amid such racial tensions is admirable, and her stylistic approach is not without merit. Ostensibly purposeful tracking shots of Marek negotiating various social spaces lend urgency, while Mihál’s performance is loaded with effective confusion. Marek is never at home in any of these spaces, of course – the domestic is forever exclusionary – and Fornay decides often to linger on his interpretably blank figure while conversations happen off-screen but within earshot, which both heightens the protagonist’s isolation while priming us of the film’s own individualistic focus.

Like Marek, though, the film doesn’t seem to have much to say about racism, and even less about its potential links to family, class and gender – all of which hang in the background, threatening to force the filmmakers to make a more serious and challenging film. The skinheads with whom Marek spends his spare time are mostly left to cliché, for instance, though an early scene shows right-wing fascists commemorating the first Slovak State, all seen on a safely-distanced television set within the cosy confines of a house.

Likewise, Marek’s relationship with Lukas appears at first to be interesting, but the decision to have the former kidnap and torture his younger sibling – with unintentional consequences – is merely bewildering. Is this plot twist meant to function as a warning against fascism and its destructive effect upon brotherly love? It’s a facile point to make if so, and recalls in fact that implication-cum-assertion in Haneke’s Code Unknown (2000), in which all the vivid and superbly acted drama serves a too-easily asked question: why can’t we all just get along?

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2013
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A troubled teenager with violent friends discovers a secret about his absent mother than makes him contemplate a cruel act.
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Director: Mira Fornay

Writer: Mira Fornay

Starring: Adam Mihál, Marián Kuruc, Libor Filo, Irena Bendová

Year: 2013

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Slovakia, Czech Republic

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