Told almost entirely from the point of view of strays roaming the crowded streets of Istanbul, Elizabeth Lo’s first feature film Stray seeks to challenge notions of exclusion amongst the chaos of overcrowded urban settings. Through the very fitting lenses of strayness, Lo poignantly explores the contemporary epidemic of non-belonging, threading cautiously whilst reflecting on the many faces of marginalisation.

In contrast to the loudness of city life, the quiet dogs roam the streets in search of food and shelter, often unnoticed in the midst of buzzing cars and rushed steps. Attracted by the commonness of ostracism, the animals gravitate around a group of refugees, the asylum seekers readily available to shower the creatures with the attention they themselves have been so bitterly denied. Together, they face a brutal shunning from those who are biasedly programmed to steer away. To the faceless mass, dogs and men are reduced to something less than invisible. It is in this well-built parallel to the sorrows of the diaspora that Stray finds its core strength.  

In spite of the overwhelming harshness of the banishment on display here, Lo gives us a heartening sense of faith whenever a casual wanderer stops to offer the strays any glimpse of affection. In these scarce showings of sheer kindness lies the sacred pillar of humanity that keeps the societal wheels turning – here, at last, is the answer. When the dogs are given a name – when they are taken in despite the lack of a formal address, hope firmly plants itself on the unsteadiest of grounds. 

Stray could have easily basked in the indisputable advantage of the likeableness of its main subject. Lo, however, needs no head start. Rivetingly confident in the devices she employs to build this sublime analysis of contemporary society, the director delivers a sharp, unique portrait of inflicted loneliness.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

DIRECTOR: Elizabeth Lo

WRITER: Elizabeth Lo

SYNOPSIS: The world of Zeytin, a stray dog living life on the streets of Istanbul.