Director: Andrew Kötting
Star: Xavier Tchili
An apocalyptic landscape of ashen mountains. Into this desolate arena appears a naked man on all fours, scrabbling across the dirt. So begins the latest experimental film from Andrew Kötting, a loose adaptation of the story of Ivan Mishukov. Born into poverty in the nineties, Mishukov rejected his traumatic family experience at the age of four and lived with the dogs on the fringes of Moscow, eking out an existence in alleyways and landfills.
Kötting presents his version of this story – already a play by Hattie Naylor – as a kind of faux-documentary in keeping with the similar presentation of last year’s British folk ramble Edith Walks. The name of his film acknowledges that this is not intended to be viewed as a direct retelling; Ivan has become Lek. And in keeping with this upfront admission to the audience, what is presented deviates from traditional documentary filmmaking in a manner which has become Kötting’s signature.
Xavier Tchili appears on occasion as Lek, often crowded by darkness, held in close-up, talking intimately into a microphone clasped close to his body. A lion’s share of the remainder of the film collages archival footage against an array of voices interjecting on the narrative. We hear from psychologists from varying fields, as well as learning more from Lek himself.
Kötting’s unapologetic approach can prove trying. With its intertitles, degraded film stock and long landscape shots held at altitude, Lek And The Dogs is exceedingly aware of itself, while I, on a personal level, found Tchili’s performance less rewarding than the desired intention, reminiscent of something out of a student film. Yet, elsewhere, Kötting manages to cultivate an uncanny atmosphere of industrial desolation. The soundtrack by Jem Finer howls, pops and crackles, while the archival footage – eminently interesting regardless of the context Kötting has applied – adds a further echo of decay and loss. Imagine if Wolf Eyes or Pharmakon had made a ‘visual album’ as popularised by the likes of Beyoncé and Janelle Monáe and you’re part way there.
Footage of dogs rummaging in landfill feels curiously humorous given the recent arrival of Wes Anderson’s wistful daydream Isle Of Dogs; a cultural echo outside of Kötting’s control, but nevertheless an oddly pleasing one, as though the two vastly different films were talking to one another.
Ivan/Lek’s story doesn’t fill out the whole running time here and so toward its end Lek And The Dogs floats in a cloud of its own existence; the interjecting voices become more philosophical and theoretical, and the film mutates somewhat into a more meditative piece. As with Edith Walks, Kötting makes his own experiments in filming the subject of the piece.
His films feel intensely personal, as though they are diary entries in his own explorations of craft. From this standpoint the main takeaway from Lek And The Dogs is the remarkably collaged archival elements, evoking a Russia of calloused hands, rubble and ruin. A cheery end-of-credit sting suggests Kötting’s interest is more that of the curious than the haunted.
Sill, on a humane level, what lingers is the sense of self-salvage; moving through existence by minimising personal damage or trauma. If man has failed, man’s best friend might just be the most suitable substitute.