How can we approach poverty from a new angle? What new perspective could be taken towards the down-trodden and forgotten? Elizabeth Lo’s film follows Zeytin, a stray dog living roughly on the streets of Istanbul. We follow Zeytin as he roams the city looking for food, companionship and safety. Behind Zeytin, a tragic story of Istanbul’s impoverished youth unfolds.
It’s strange how quickly you acclimatise the dog’s perspective of the city. Following Zeytin and his friends exclusively, the camera is always knee high, viewing the world from close to the ground. Human figures loom large over our canine avatars. The bustling city dwarfs and presses in on our lowly camera, emphasising the threat that exists for dogs and the young people that surround them. The dogs frequently encounter a group of teenagers addicted to sniffing glue. We also see him pass better off people utterly consumed in the particulars of their lives, oblivious to the world unfolding just at their feet.
The effect is very compelling, recalling the excellent Capurnaum. By literally moving the impoverished to a different spacial plane, it emphasises just how close and yet far the affluent and needy are too each other. Istanbul is a city uniquely affected by the problem of stray dogs and so are largely ignored by the people they encounter. Zeytin is also literally voiceless and incapable of understanding the banalities around him. The film, however, suggests there is a great nobility to Zeytin and her ilk. Those who survive as no other good, perhaps her very existence a defiance and a judgement upon the entire society.
Stray is a unique film about poverty. It’s an anthropomorphic drama in which the subject is a stand in for a much larger issue. As the credits play out, Zeytin hears the call to prayer and instinctively joins in by howling. It’s a wonderful moment . This is one of the most captivating and complete cinematic portrayals of a modern city, and it does it just a few feet off the ground.