Venice Film Festival: Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog
Directed by Laurie Anderson

by Dana Jammal

Heart of a Dog is Laurie Anderson’s latest work, an homage to her beloved dog Lolabelle, who passed away in 2011. This is Anderson’s first feature film since her 1986 concert film Home of the Brave and she certainly does a remarkable job at writing, directing, narrating and composing music for this film. While the film centres on Lolabelle, it explores broader themes of love and death, integrating many topics such as surveillance in a post 9/11 state, storytelling and Buddhist teachings of life after death. Laurie narrates the film in a way that feels both personal yet profoundly relatable – something that is quite rare in experimental film. As she recounts memories of her childhood and Lolabelle, her voice is soothing and her words are poetic, the atmosphere is haunting, lighthearted, melancholic and dreamlike.

There is a scene where hawks encircle a vulnerable Lolabelle and Anderson draws parallels to the dangers in the air to that of the dangers of 9/11 that came from the sky. Even her approach to such a historically talked about subject feels abstract and individual. Through a series of fragmented animation (which Anderson sketched herself), videos and stills, Heart of a Dog offers a unique window into Anderson’s consciousness.

Humor is woven into the narrative as she discusses Lolabelle’s career as an abstract painter, sculptor and pianist. Lou Reed is remembered as he appears in one of the scenes and his song “Turning Time Around” plays over the closing credits. Anderson also recalls her mother’s death as well as the near death experiences of her two siblings. During the press conference at La Biennale di Venezia, Anderson contrasts the westernised approach to death to that of eastern philosophies, in that the western perception is that one should feel no pain nor be in a state of consciousness. This comes up in the film where she recreates a scene of a veterinarian telling her that she should put a blind and ill Lolabelle to sleep in order for her not to feel any more pain. However she chooses to take her home and care for her instead during Lolabelle’s remaining time in this world. As Anderson references the Tibetan Book of the Dead, striking illustrations she had drawn of Lolabelle in the bardo begin to appear.

While the film is saturated with dense material, it also flows with a lucidness that feels meditative and even elevating at times. Anderson has managed to create a film that feels much like a series of visual anecdotes of her personal history, while at the same time one that poses important universal questions about love, loss and the afterlife.


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