‘Stray’ Review: Nothing but a Hound Dog

Zeytin has a strong head, hazel eyes and a quizzical expression. Long-legged and confident, she trots beside busy highways, unbothered by crowds or the director Elizabeth Lo’s trailing camera. Why should she be? She’s a star.

As simple as its title and as complex as the city it briefly illuminates, “Stray,” Lo’s sharp-eyed documentary about the street dogs of Istanbul, unspools without narration or anything like a plot. Instead, the restless rhythms of the mutts’ uncertain existence lend a poetic randomness to a movie that’s more contemplative than cute. On-screen quotations from Greek philosophy punctuate its brief 72 minutes, and snatches of overheard conversations swirl and fade as Zeytin and her canine pals — part of this world, yet aloof from it — pass by.

Once exterminated en masse and now protected by law from euthanization, the strays interact with a citizenry whose tolerance for their fighting and garbage-raiding is sometimes surprising. The residents’ treatment of human outcasts, though, is rather less welcoming, as we see when tagging along with a pitiful group of Syrian refugees, glue-sniffing youngsters who find with the dogs a comfort they’re otherwise denied.

Organically and entirely without judgment, “Stray,” filmed from 2017-19, builds a subtle, cross-species commentary that’s more than a little melancholy. While never directly political, Lo’s camera is there when the animals encounter a women’s march for equality and, later, when the refugees connect with boatmen who share their own migrant past. The filmmaker's eyes may rarely leave the dogs, but what she’s really looking at is us.

Stray
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 12 minutes. In theaters and on virtual cinemas. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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