Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Stray Dogs
Film Review: Stray Dogs
By Sonia Nettnin
The 40th Annual Chicago International Film Festival showed Marziyeh Meshkini’s ''Stray Dogs.''
The feature film tells the story about a six-year-old girl, Goi Ghotal, and her older brother Zahed, who live in the streets of post-war Afghanistan.
For survival, the children collect wood and paper in exchange for food from local market men. The film captures the thousands of Afghan children who live this harsh reality.
When a group of boys try to burn a little, white terrier, Goi and Zahed rescue the dog. At night, they beg the prison warden for entrance into their mother’s prison cell.
Their mother, Shabaneh, is in prison because she has two husbands (adultery). Her first husband, a Taliban member, serves time in American prison. If he forgives Shabaneh for her remarriage, then she will be freed from prison. Moreover, she can take care of her children.
Before Goi and her mother sleep, Goi practices her mother’s apology for her father.
Goi tells her mother she will say: “When you lived with our mother, you beat her a lot so she didn’t love you anymore.” Goi narrates what she witnessed, despite her mother’s version for forgiveness.
They are at the mercy of a man within a male-dominated society. Accusations determine an Afghan woman’s fate, along with her children; and post-war conditions create more cultural violence.
When an imprisoned, young mother cannot feed or warm her crying infant, the prison guard gives her baby to an elderly woman. Already, the elderly woman cares for several grandchildren. She tells the prison guard she has no milk for the baby.
Tragedy takes on many forms because war creates a chain reaction of devastation.
Eventually, Goi reaches her father, who will not forgive her mother. After they return to their mother’s prison, the warden refuses their entrance. Now that they lost their nigh-prisoner-status, Goi and Zahed turn to theft…at least several attempts at it. If arrested, they will have shelter again.
Meshkini’s film mirrors the lives of Afghan children orphaned by family death and imprisonment. Goi illustrates survival traits, just like stray dogs. Also, her love for the dog demonstrates the strength in the feminine. The practiced apology shows the hidden strength of women who live in an unjust society.
The daily struggle for food, shelter and wood (for fire) speaks to the hardships faced by a society ravaged by over eighteen years of warfare. The panoramic shots of Kabul maintain focus on the children’s lives outdoors. The social commentary and economic conditions shine through the film’s plot and characters. Together, they illustrate cultural norms are unfair and cruel, and so are broken promises of U.S.-aid for reconstruction.
In the end, it is human beings who live the tragedy. Meshkini explores the breakdown in the family and societal structure after the bombs dropped on the people. In the film, people play parts, but they are not actors.
Afghanistan’s children search for scraps, they carry burlap sacks and they hide from danger.
For the people who do not know the challenges Afghan children face, Meshkini spotlights them with a refreshing storyline. A definite must see.