The Wild Dogs Commentary

The Wild Dogs (2002), by writer-director Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden), is a disquieting and uneven film that asks the viewer what he or she would do when faced with the misery of others. Set in the dystopia of post-Ceausescu Bucharest, The Wild Dogs constructs an allegorical relationship between the poor people of Bucharest, its abandoned and imperiled wild dogs, and the personified collection of vices and virtues that determine their fate. Allegory is meant as a lesson that is learned by looking for patterns connecting the past with the present and the future; it asks the audience to associate the characters and events of the story with real world meaning outside the narrative. Allegory is never particularly subtle, since it is intended as a teaching device.

Fitzgerald begins by informing his audience how Romania’s past connects with its present. In Bucharest, we are told, thousands of wild dogs now roam the streets because former President Ceausescu decided to re-engineer urban landscapes. He destroyed existing neighbourhoods and planned to build rows of identical soviet-style apartment blocks in their stead. In the process of turning families out of their homes, dogs were left behind to fend for themselves. Underfed and abused, they became riddled with disease. Nevertheless, their numbers increased to the point that they became an embarrassment for the Mayor of Bucharest, who ordered that the dogs be rounded up and destroyed.

The people of Bucharest have not fared much better than the wild dogs. The Revolution has not brought about freedom or riches. Poverty is epidemic; people live on the streets or in squalor. Romanian women have become the sex slaves of Europe. Children are purposely mutilated so that they can earn more money as beggars. Babies are abandoned in orphanages because their parents cannot feed them. In order to emphasize these parallels, director Fitzgerald cuts repeatedly between scenes portraying the lives of the poor and footage of the wild dogs. Together, the dogs and the poor represent the links between the past and the present in Bucharest.

The character who represents this link is Bogdan (Mihai Calota), a young man whose job it is to round up dogs for eventual euthanasia. Bogdan works with Cristi (Cristian Irimia), an older man, who is quite happy to do the job and who tries his best to hide the truth from their boss – that Bogdan can’t bring himself to actually capture dogs. Bogdan knows that he will be fired from the job sooner or later and is terrified about what will happen to his wife, Varvara (Simona Popescu) and their baby when he is. There is no other work. When Cristi is attacked by street children, Bogdan must take the van out by himself. Instead of catching dogs, he begins to collect them in an abandoned building, feeding and caring for them full time. His decision to look after the wild dogs becomes an obsession that causes him to abandon his own family.

Contemporary Bucharest is a dystopia of crumbling infrastructure, corrupt institutions, and sudden violence. We experience the city through the eyes of Geordie (Thom Fitzgerald), a pornographer who has been sent there by his editor to exploit the desperation of Romanian women to make a living any way they can. On his flight to Romania, he meets Victor (David Hayman), a dissolute diplomat who is returning to Bucharest where he has lived for six years. Once settled in his hotel, Geordie is invited to dinner at the diplomat’s home, where he meets Victor’s wife (Alberta Watson) and daughter (Rachel Blanchard).

If we were to think of these three adults as modern day vices and virtues, Victor would be Lechery; his wife Nathalie, Generosity; and Geordie, Compassion. Victor is a thoroughgoing rogue. He takes full advantage of his untouchable diplomatic status by attending sex clubs every night. He offers to find women for Geordie to photograph. He introduces Geordie to a midget who will find him girls. Geordie remains aloof from the activities at the club, but accidentally opens the door to a room where Victor sits in a carnal tableau, surrounded by naked women. Nathalie, on the other hand, is the patron of an orphanage. She takes her daughter with her on visits where she displays maternal affection to the children. One day, on a city street, she feeds a little legless boy who gets around on a set of wheels strapped to his torso. He becomes so emotionally attached to this kind and generous woman that he follows her everywhere.

When we meet Geordie, his unscrupulous boss is ordering him to Romania. Geordie is uninterested in the assignment from the beginning; and, once he has arrived in the city, grows increasingly disgusted by what he is supposed to do. He begins instead to take photos of the poor. He tries to help a young beggar and then to make amends to a little gypsy girl whom he has tricked into posing for him.

In Fitzgerald’s film, the future of Bucharest is marginally less bleak than its present. Some of the oppression is removed: Victor dies of cancer; Geordie refuses to exploit the helpless and quits his job, sending his boss the photos of destitute children instead. Nathalie adopts the little boy. But Bogdan is arrested and Varvara must give her child to the orphanage. The film attempts no easy answers to the ethical question it poses.

The Wild Dogs won four awards at the Atlantic Film Festival in 2002 for Best Direction (Thom Fitzgerald), Best Editing (Michael Weir), Best Sound Design (Hayward Parrott), and Best Canadian Feature (Thom Fitzgerald). The film was nominated in three categories for a Genie.

Evelyn Ellerman