Have you ever eaten something new? You’re in a café with ideas above its station that has somehow sold you something like a beef flavoured chocolate mousse in a hollowed out pomegranate husk when all you really want is a coffee and doughnut. And as you take the first bite you find yourself having to actually stop and think if you either hate or love it? Usually, because you had no idea what to expect from it because it feels like someone just grabbed some random items and slammed them together.

Well, that’s kind of where I am with Lek and the Dogs (2017) by auteur filmmaker and artist Andrew Kötting.

Based on a play that was based on the real-life story of Ivan Mishukov, Lek and the Dogs is an experimental art piece mixed with a docudrama that tells the grim and harrowing story of Muscovite Lek (Xavier Tchili) who, as a four year old boy, runs away from his alcoholic and abusive home into the cold night of Moscow. Running a gauntlet of abuse on the streets, Lek’s is adopted by the wild dogs that live on the edge of the city and shares with them the abandoned factory areas, in sewers and basements. Years later, after Lek has returned and lived in human society he still clings to the life he had among the dogs as his only source of comfort.

Lek and the Dogs has confused me. Not in a David Lynch trying-to-be-art-but-sacrificing-subject-over-substance kind of way but because I honestly have no idea whether or not I have enjoyed this film.  I hate pretentiousness for pretentiousness sake and love films that deal with the human condition, both personal and social. Lek and the Dogs has both. For every moment of ostentatious pseudo art house, there is a moment of pure brilliance that captures an aspect of a broken and damaged mind. It reminds me of those artsy short films you would get on Channel 4 after 1 am. The ones that were regional funded and usually depressing or sacrificing substance for style. Or one of those A/V installations in an art centre somewhere. It’s like a Samuel Beckett play, right down to the audio recordings from an earlier time in Lek’s life.

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Faux stock footage and home films with a 16mm overlay is mixed with extreme close up shots of Lek talking to the camera while playing recordings he made as a teenager, or him gallivanting naked like a dog in what looks like the Sechura Desert, there seems at first little to connect them beside Lek’s monologue in Russian. But then I realised I shouldn’t watch it as a movie story but as a collage narrative, one being made on film. It’s at this stage that it stops being a film and becomes an art piece. The bleak and stark minimalist setting matches the bleak minimalist story.

Throughout it all we have voice-overs explaining themes such as PTSD, social anxiety and physiological trauma from Sarah Lloyd and, weirdly enough, the nature of Free Will and the individual human experience as a reflection of the growth of human civilisation from animal-like beings to developed humans, from comic book writer and ceremonial magician Alan Moore.

I’m not sure who the audience is meant to be, in fact, I don’t think that Kötting made it with an audience in mind. A strange film on a strange story. You’ll find something you hate about it and something you love.

Dir: Andrew Kötting
Scr: Andrew Kötting, Hattie Naylor
Cast:  Xavier Tchili, Sarah Lloyd, Alan Moore
Prd: Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter, Andrew Kötting
DOP: Nick Gordon Smith     
Jem Finer
Country: UK
Runtime: 92 min

Lek and the Dogs is in cinemas from 8th June 2018

By Pat Fox