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My 12 for ’18: Empathy in Any Language & “Isle of Dogs”

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number twelve.

2018 has been a long year, but one that moves at a whirlwind pace.

It’s a bit of a paradox. Time moves so quickly that it seems impossible to keep up with everything that is unfolding. Stories that would have dominated the news cycle for months are now played out in the space of an afternoon, buried beneath the next big story and the next shocking revelation. However, despite how fast everything is moving, this has a numbing effect. The constant barrage of news and information makes things feel so much slower and longer than they would otherwise. 2018 moved so fast that it was impossible to keep up, but it also seemed to last an eternity.

As a result, seemingly ordinary periods of time can be stretched and distorted. The window between theatrical release and home media roll out has been getting shorter and shorter for most films, occasionally to the consternation of cinema chains. There are only a few scant months between the premiere of a film and its release as digital download or hard copy. Normally, that is not a long or extended period of time. In 2018 terms, it is an eternity. So much can change in that window.

I first saw Isle of Dogs in a crowded cinema during the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. The snow was falling outside. Although I did not realise it from the safety of the cinema, buses were being cancelled. Getting home afterwards would be an oddity, and I would spend the next four days locked in my house, staring at idyllic and unspoiled white snow. At the time, I really loved Isle of Dogs. It stayed with me, haunting and beautiful. The imagery was arresting, the compositions impressive, the simple story at the heart of the film an engaging appeal to empathy in a world increasingly bereft of it.

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Non-Review Review: Isle of Dogs

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Isle of Dogs is a beautiful piece of work, in every sense of the word.

The obvious point of comparison is The Fantastic Mister Fox, Wes Anderson’s previous stop-motion adventure. Isle of Dogs and The Fantastic Mister Fox are certainly of a piece with one another even beyond the wonderful production design, featuring meditative canines engaged in existential struggles. However, Isle of Dogs represents an extension and deepening of the work that Anderson did with The Fantastic Mister Fox.

Isle of Dogs reflects the more daring formal experimentation that made Grand Budapest Hotel such a treat, trusting the audience to accept and even embrace Anderson’s consciously hyperstylised approach to storytelling. In a strictly logical or rational manner, almost every major creative decision in Isle of Dogs seems to have been made to remind the audience that they are watching something constructed and crafted, the film consciously and artfully heightened so as to remind the audience of the remove that exists between them and the film they are watching.

Although Anderson has come to be known for this conscious and playful aesthetic, it is not his greatest accomplishment as a director. The most wonderful and beautiful thing about Isle of Dogs is that the film is so lovingly and carefully crafted that repeatedly drawing the audience’s attention to the artifice of it renders it no less real and no less moving.

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