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Animal Acts
by Becky Tan

Time Magazine recently discussed the use of animals in film. It seems to me that animals have always been in film way back to Lassie and Flipper. Recently animals have played a major part in such films as War Horse or We Bought a Zoo. In the Time Magazine discussion author Bryan Walsh was most interested in the suffering of wild animals, which should never be on a film set, no matter how often “No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture” slides across the screen.

He also says that cats and dogs are used to people and have no problems in film. That’s a relief since cats and dogs have never been so present. Perhaps I am much more observant since The Artist featured Uggy (photo above right) to the point where he was one of the main actors (quite effectively actually in a silent movie) and for which he won the Palm Dog Award at the Cannes film festival 2011. Since then, I’ve noticed the talented dogs in Hugo, Our Idiot Brother, and Spy Kids 4D, although in this last film, Argonaut is a robot dog, which definitely didn’t suffer any repercussions due to maltreatment. It also could speak posh British gentleman’s English, more lucid than any other actor in the film.

Films at the Berlinale also feature dogs and cats. Last year Shelly Schoeneshoefer interviewed Kriv Stenders about working with the Australian wonder dog Kelpie for the film Red Dog.

This year director Julian Roman Pölsier discussed his dog Luchs who was definitely a co-star with Martina Gedeck in The Wall (Die Wand). It’s probably a rare film where the director actually uses his own dog in a film. In this case it was a Bavarian Mountain Hound (called Bayerischer Gebirgsschweißhund). It is in every frame next to Ms. Gedeck and together they are practically the only creatures in the entire 108 minutes. She said that she spent a long time walking and (without lip movement which would show on screen) saying, “Heel.” Later, Luchs, tired of her commands, as if to say, “I got it, I got it.” He never lost his dignity. Once again the dog was especially effective because the film was a silent movie – or almost. There is no real dialog. Martina Gedeck said that no matter how much of a companion she became for Luchs, “Pölsier was still the ‘master’ for him, just as Pölsier was still the ‘master’ of her” – at least for the duration of the film.

In Rent-a-Cat (Rentaneko) - photo below - a Japanese film by Naoko Ogigami, a young woman lives alone with her many cats. She takes walks with them in a handcart. Along the way, she meets people who want to rent a cat, people who might otherwise be lonely. They agree on the terms and the cat moves in temporarily until the recipient has changed his/her lifestyle for the better. In spite of all the cats, the girl Sayoko is herself lonely. The film is catlike in that it slowly prowls from one scene to the next without real highlights, just a general purring, a big yawn, a long licking/washing of the paws (Sayoko also does a lot of laundry come to think of it). Without the cats, there would be nothing.