The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet finds a sense of calm and purpose in wanderings through an absurd apocalypse, but never materializes into anything worthwhile.
“On the other hand, in less than a year, we’ll go back to normal, God willing,” a doctor tells Seba (Daniel Katz) and his wife (Julieta Zylberberg) during a checkup for their child. How often have we heard those words, “back to normal?” Don’t worry, we’ll be back to normal in just a few weeks. Just a few months. Not even a year. Maybe a couple years. We’ll be back to normal, eventually, whatever that’s supposed to be.
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet (El perro que no calla) follows Sebastian, or Seba as he’s called, through his changing world: changing jobs, changing homes, marriage, a child, and a world facing a strange apocalypse. We first meet Sebastian when his neighbors complain about his dog, Rita, that barks while he’s gone. He tries to remedy the situation by bringing Rita to work; after an awkwardly ambiguous conversation with his manager, he decides to leave his job. Moving to the countryside and eventually back into the city, Sebastian begins a series of odd jobs, including working as a caretaker for an elderly patient and joining a farmer co-op.
While dancing at his mother’s wedding, a young woman catches his eye, and they fall in love and eventually have a child together. One day, while harvesting crops, a meteor falls and Sebastian and his fellow farmers find themselves collapsing to the ground when they try to stand. We aren’t given much insight into what’s happened, but there seems to be something toxic in the air above four feet, and people have to either squat low when they walk or wear a bubble helmet that looks like something out of an old sci-fi film. Through all of these happenings, from banal moments like trying to find a job to earth-shattering events like an actual apocalypse, Sebastian finds a sense of balance and purpose wandering from place to place and job to job, creating his own calm and stability in a world that’s falling apart.
Co-writer and director Ana Katz filmed The Dog Who Wouldn’t be Quiet over a period of several years, and the scattered nature of her film is very evident in its sparse narrative and dialogue. We’re given very little exposition and much of the story happens offscreen, so what we do see feels more like small brushstrokes of a greater painting we’re not privy to. There’s no sense of how much time passes between each vignette and it’s left to us to piece together as best a coherent picture of the story as we can from what few details we’re given. None of the characters are given much, if any dimension, and even our protagonist, Sebastian, seems a bit enigmatic, even though he’s the thread that ties the film together. We never get to know him all that well apart from his brief interactions and experiences during the film’s brusque 73 minutes, although Daniel Katz’s presence onscreen is quietly compelling enough to make up for that, almost.
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet has its moments tinged with something almost otherworldly and moments tinged with something dryly absurd, but it never leans into these enough to create its own unique personality. When the film finally ends, it’s not unreasonable to get that “that’s it?” feeling, where you wonder what exactly you just watched and why it matters, because what you’ve seen is presented in such ambiguous and inconsequential ways. It’s frustrating, because The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet seems to be on the verge of something insightful and, perhaps, even profound, that it never reaches. There’s something hiding underneath the surface of this unassuming absurdist tale, something about finding a sense of purpose and even a rhythm in the midst of an unpredictable journey through life and overwhelming chaos, but these ideas are barely discernable, which is a shame because this film has some valuable lessons we could learn that it never seems all that interested in sharing.
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet premiered digitally at the 47th Seattle International Film Festival on April 8-18, 2021.