Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"But Gubbels gets caught between simply documenting fly-on-the-wall life and trying to draw parallels with the staff." | Photo: Courtesy of Visions du Reel

Documenting the comings and goings of an animal shelter is a fraught one in terms of choice for a director - do you emphasise the cuddly or the careworn? The staff or the residents? Saskia Gubbels opts for a largely matter-of-fact approach, capturing the broad spectrum of life at show here - from the cute to the unfortunate to the down right dangerous, including kittens fresh from the cradle and other, more unlucky sorts, who are about to go to the grave. All of which means that animal lovers should be warned that not only are there injured animals caught on camera here but there is also footage of dogs being euthanised, which some may find a step too far.

Largely Gubbels opts for a fly on the wall approach to watching the day-to-day ins and outs of this shelter in the Netherlands, as animals - sometimes arriving by their dozens - are processed and put through a process of rehabilitation. In one part of the place, a woman, whose own back story is briefly revealed, sings Mozart to nervous cats as she tries to coax them back to normality. In another, the staff put dogs through stress tests to see how they react to large noises or, by using life-size dolls, dogs and children.

Copy picture

The director captures the strong vocational element at play here. Those looking after the animals are dedicated and committed to them, trying their best to help them find new homes and being less than ready to give up on the even the toughest cases. In addition to seeing them working with the animals, we also see rehoming interviews as people talk about what pet they want, with one woman in floods of tears as she has to return an animal that has taken to biting all and sundry. It's interesting to note that sometimes they put animals on and off 'the market' and even change their names in order to drum up fresh interest in those that prove hard to shift to new homes.

There's sweetness and, inevitably, sorrow when some animals, through no fault of their own, are deemed to be past redemption, often because they have just become too violent. But Gubbels gets caught between simply documenting fly-on-the-wall life and trying to draw parallels with the staff. One or two talk about their lives, but though their stories have a resonance, it feels like cod psychology and the director struggles to marry them smoothly to the more general footage. The film could either do with more of the workers' input, or less, in order to bring things more firmly into focus, although the film is never less than a testimony to the staff's dedication and carries a hopefulness that most animals can be rehabilitated and go on to lead a second, happier life.

Reviewed on: 22 Apr 2021
Share this with others on...
Sheltered packshot
Documentary profile of a large animal shelter.

Director: Saskia Gubbels

Writer: Saskia Gubbels

Year: 2020

Runtime: 73 minutes

Country: Netherlands


Search database: